Bethlehem PA: The Christmas City is a year-round gift

You’d expect “The Christmas City,” as Bethlehem, PA bills itself to play up the holiday in a big way. But there’s a lot going on all year to make the town nestled in the Pennsylvania hills a great getaway.
Start with the history
Bethlehem was founded on Christmas Eve 1741 by German missionaries from Moravia. They created a unique communal society which lasted for several decades before succumbing to more conventional social norms. Their imposing stone dormitories, the church (with a magnificent pipe organ), and smaller workshops are clustered downtown. Walking tours by costumed guides both entertain and inform. The Bethlehem Hotel is on the site of the cabin where the village was named. Go inside to admire the murals which illustrate the town’s history. Then visit the Moravian Museum, located in the original Gemeinhaus, or community house to learn more about the daily lives of the people.
Shopping
Shoppers will find wonderfully unique stores along Main Street. No franchises or national chains here; instead the variety and quality entice even non-shoppers. Adjacent to the Moravian complex is the Moravian Book Shop. The oldest continuously operating bookstore in the world (established 1745), it takes up nearly half a block. While there is a good selection of books – particularly for children— most of the store is devoted to household items: candles, dinner and table ware, gifts, bedding, garden accents. There’s a large section devoted to gourmet food and kitchen gadgets, a very large year-round Christmas room, and a card shop. Even a deli, with dining in a greenhouse. Fashion-shoppers can check out The Mixed Bag, which has just that; Shuze for footwear; and vintage clothing is at The Attic. You’ll think that Santa stores his goodies off-season in this very friendly town. And one of the largest inventories of all things Celtic and British is at Donegal Square. The tea room is not-to-be-missed.
Where to eat
Foodies gravitate to Seasons Olive Oil & Vinegar Taproom to sample dozens of flavored oils and (largely) balsamic vinegars. Total strangers direct each other to new-found favorites like Habanero Olive Oil or the wonderfully rich Dark Chocolate Balsamic Vinegar. A few doors away at The Chocolate Lab, Arlene Brockel makes unique handmade chocolates, like the Zinger – peanut butter and caramel rolled in dark chocolate and peanuts.
Culture and Arts
Take advantage of the combination ticket to visit the Kemerer Museum of Decorative Arts. Just around the corner from the Moravian Museum, it’s actually three houses. Externally, they are still individual buildings, but inside, walls have been removed to create “flow-through” ability. The clever presentation showcases the furniture and household décor as though the residents have just stepped out of the room for a minute. You don’t actually sit on the furniture or bounce on the mattress, but you feel as though you could. There are also several kid-friendly options, like decorating a blanket chest with Pennsylvania Dutch folk art designs. The museum’s latest acquisition is a collection of 18 antique dollhouses, each one intricate furnished and decorated. Flashlights let you illuminate dark corners.
For more information
All sorts of good information about Bethlehem is found at www.christmascity.org; www.bethlehempaonline.com; and www.artsquest.org.
Moravian Book Shop, 428 Main St. www.moravianbookshop.com
Seasons Olive Oil & Vinegar Taproom, 504 Main St., www.seasonstaproom.com
The Chocolate Lab, 446 Main St., www.thechocolatelabbethlehem.com
Mixed Bag, 450 Main St., www.mixedbagonmain.com
Shuze, 520 Main St., www.shopshuze.com
The Attic, 516 Main St., www.atticclothes.com
Donegal Square, 534 Main St.; www.donegalsquare.com

Photos:  ©Fran Severn All Rights Reserved

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