Last Sunday Ben and I drove to Bethlehem, PA for their annual Christkindlmarkt, or Christmas Market. Bethlehem is about an hour and half drive from NYC, so it was a very doable day trip. I first heard about Bethlehem and their celebration of Christmas when I was in high school. My biology teacher had a very small Christmas tree up in her classroom. On that tree, she had the most beautiful and delicate ornaments that I had ever seen — paper quilled ornaments. I asked her where she had bought them. She told me that they were from Bethlehem, PA. From that day on, I wanted to visit Bethlehem around Christmas time to experience a Christmas market.
Christmas markets are street markets that pop up four weeks before Christmas all over Germany (and some other countries in Europe as well). I had been to several in Germany and honestly, there’s nothing like Christmas in Germany. I love these markets. Because it’s Europe, all of the stands sell craftsman items. The items are either made by hand or in very small batches in factories. They’re not mass produced items that can be found everywhere, which means that every Christmas market is different. What is the same is that gluehwein, or hot mulled wine, will be served in little blue mugs. The mulled wine helps keep the cold nippy feeling from the frosty air away. You walk around, peruse the stands, do a little shopping while sipping on mulled wine. It’s also my opportunity to eat the hot crispy potato cakes that I liberally salt before dipping it in the applesauce. The mixture of crispy, hot, and salty from the potato cake, and the smooth, cold. and sweet from the applesauce makes my tongue dance in happiness. It’s the perfect amalgamation of tastes and textures. I love everything about Christmas in Germany.
Including these amazing candle arches, called Schwibbogen. As we were walking around the market, I noticed that this one store sold all sorts of Christmas ornaments and decorations. Not the cheesy American Santa and elves horrors, but interesting and beautiful works. I fell in love with these Schwibbogen. I held off from buying one because we wouldn’t have the opportunity to use it this year, but I told Ben that we were definitely getting one next year because we’ll be in town for Christmas.
We walked around and looked at all the stands. Hats, scarves, paintings, photos, artwork, more ornaments, jewelry and such were being sold. Outside there were some demonstrations, like ice sculpting. The backdrop to the outdoor space was this incredible defunct steel factory that is now being used as an arts/music center. The factory is like some Steampunk dream. The tall imposing rusting cylinder rose majestically above us. Various scaffolding, stairs, and other support structures wound around. We found out that during summer months, they hold concerts there.
I was a little sad to discover that no paper quilled ornaments were being sold. After having my heart set on visiting Bethlehem for almost two decades (yikes!), I was really intent on buying some. But I did find a lovely little stand that sold some other wooden carved ornaments. Ben and I chose a little gingerbread factory to be our first Christmas ornament. Although we don’t have a tree this year, I did want to buy a special ornament to commemorate our first holiday season. Next year when I do have a tree, we’ll hang it up and remember our trip to Bethlehem.
Bethlehem Christkindlmarkt is open for about six weekends before Christmas (usually starting from the first weekend after Thanksgiving). Entry fee is $8, but the website had a coupon for $1 off. Parking is free.