Wendy Royal Winter 2024
Members of a Protestant denomination called the Moravians came to the New World from Europe in 1741. They cleared trees and established their settlement on 500 acres in eastern Pennsylvania. On Christmas Eve, 1741, they named their settlement Bethlehem.
They chose the confluence of the Lehigh River and Monocacy Creek as the location to set up their communal society. The group almost immediately started building the Gemeinhaus, where the Moravians lived, ate, worshipped, and slept while other buildings were being constructed. The Single Sisters’ House was built across from the Gemeinhaus in 1744.
To be self-sufficient, the Moravians developed industrial buildings, and just two years after coming to America, they had several working businesses, including a sawmill, soap mill, grist mill, and blacksmith shop. By 1747, thirty-five trades and industries were established in the settlement. At one point, the Moravians acquired nearly 4,000 acres in Bethlehem.
The Historic Moravian Bethlehem National Historic Landmark District encompasses approximately 14 acres in the heart of Bethlehem. Many of the original buildings are still standing and can be visited on tour. A visit to Historic Bethlehem should always begin at the Visitor Center & Museum Store, located at 505 Main Street. The center is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.
More than 20 uniquely themed walking tours are available throughout the year, including a Cemetery Tour, a Historic Pubs Walking Tour, and one designed for youngsters and their parents. In all, there are 12 historic sites, plus the Visitor Center, that can be visited. Some have regular open hours, and others can be seen on the various tours.
Today, Bethlehem is also known as Christmas City, and for good reason. Its naming on Christmas Eve, 1741, was just the beginning of the city’s association with the holiday. Each year, Bethlehem is the destination for Hallmarkesque holiday charm. Tours and special events highlight Bethlehem’s rich history and traditions and the diverse and vibrant community it has become.
The Christmas City Stroll
The Christmas City Stroll, offered from Nov. 17, 2023- Jan. 7, 2024, will focus on the many Moravian traditions that are still observed today, including candles in all the windows of the homes, the Christmas Putz (miniature depictions of the story of Jesus’ birth, much like a creche), displaying the 26-point Moravian star, and more as you walk through historic Bethlehem.
Bethlehem By Night Motorcoach Tour
Said to be the best way to tour the Christmas City, Bethlehem by Night Motor Coach Tours are offered on designated evenings from Nov. 24- Dec. 31. A certified guide in period dress will share Christmas traditions and point out historic sites as you along on the northside in the historic district in the comfort of the motor coach. Visitors see the oldest building in Bethlehem, the Gemeinhaus, and then tour the Southside Arts District. Along the route, guests will see the massive Steel Blast Furnaces lit up and visit the famous star atop South Mountain.
Tours depart from the Historic Hotel Bethlehem, 437 Main St., at 5, 6 and 7 p.m. There are no tours on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.
This bucket-list holiday experience is a great way to experience Bethlehem to take in lights, Colonial and Victorian architecture, and the holiday charm the city is known for. The tour takes guests on a horse-drawn carriage ride through the National Historic Landmark District. The carriage can accommodate up to 4 people and two children on laps. The rides depart from the Kemerer Museum of Decorative Arts and run every 20 minutes from 4 to 9 p.m.
Live Advent Calendar
Historic Bethlehem’s Live Advent Calendar is a holiday tradition with a twist. With traditional advent calendars, recipients open one door each day to find a treat, scripture, or activity leading up to Christmas. Downtown Bethlehem Association will host a life-sized version of the Advent Calendar from Dec 1-23. Visitors will gather at the 1810 Goundie House at 5:30 p.m. Each evening, one person from the crowd is chosen to knock on the door. When the door opens, a representative of a local business or organization will make a holiday presentation before sharing a treat with those gathered there. A list of the participating businesses and organizations, along with the date they are hosting, is available at historicbethlehem.org/experiences/series/live-advent-calendar/#heres-how-it-works.