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Life at Full Throttle: A holiday visit to the Christmas City

December 19th, 2022 |

Written by Ruth Corcoran for Times Leader 

Life At Full Throttle

My very first apartment was in the historic district of Bethlehem, Pa., also known as the Christmas City. Fittingly, Bethlehem was given its name on Christmas Eve in 1741 by members of the Moravian Church who founded a small settlement nearby. In the early 1900s, a large wooden star was constructed on South Mountain, at Bethlehem’s highest point overlooking the city. The star has been improved many times over the years and currently measures 91 feet tall and 40 feet wide. When illuminated it can be seen more than 20 miles away. That glowing star always brought me a feeling of joy as night fell on Bethlehem.

A visit to Bethlehem this time of year can get even the grouchiest of Grinches into the holiday spirit. It’s truly a magical place filled with rich and unique holiday traditions. The streets are aglow with holiday lights and a feeling of cheerfulness fills the air. As you venture into town you will hear people singing Christmas carols and you might even catch a glimpse of Santa Claus.

A few of the more popular holiday activities in Bethlehem are horse-drawn carriage rides throughout beautiful downtown, the Live Advent Calendar, and a visit to the historic Hotel Bethlehem. Thought to be the only one of its kind in the country, the Live Advent Calendar takes place nightly at the 1810 Goundie House. Each night, a different shop, restaurant, or community organization in the Historic District will give out a special treat to Live Advent Visitors.

The Hotel Bethlehem is truly spectacular, with a history of hospitality on that exact site that dates back to 1741 when the first house in Bethlehem was located there. The structure was eventually converted into an inn and in 1822, it became the Golden Eagle, later named the Eagle Hotel. In the 1920s, a group of

Bethlehem businessmen spearheaded a project that led to the construction of the Hotel Bethlehem, which opened its doors in 1922. In October, The Hotel Bethlehem celebrated its 100th anniversary.

Today, the hotel features 125 beautifully restored guest rooms and suites with sweeping views of historic Main Street, Lehigh University, Moravian College, and of course the Star of Bethlehem. The hotel’s exquisite lobby pays homage to its rich history. TapRoom/1741, the hotel bar/restaurant offers two distinct views and atmospheres for your dining pleasure and is always lively and filled with hotel guests and visitors.

A stroll along Bethlehem’s Main Street past the beautifully decorated shop windows is a must. It’s lined with retail shops, restaurants, museums, and historical sites. Browse through shops featuring artwork, jewelry, apparel and accessories, home accents, gifts, candy, and much more. A few personal favorites include Donegal Square, which features all things Celtic, and Hand Cut Crystal/Bethlehem Christmas Shoppe, which is filled with beautiful heirloom glass Christmas Ornaments from around the world, among other unique gifts. During the holidays you will also find Christmas City Village, holiday-themed wooden huts featuring items from many local vendors.

Historic Bethlehem is filled with bars and restaurants for any taste from coffee shops, wine bars, and breweries to bistros and fine dining establishments. Whenever I visit, there are too many dining choices and not enough time. Sunday Brunch at the Hotel Bethlehem is a must and I always enjoy having dinner at Apollo Grill, Edge, or Mama Nina’s. Fegley’s Bethlehem Brew Works is a great place to have a beer and catch a game and McCarthy’s Red Stag Pub & Whiskey Bar serves up some authentic Celtic cuisine.

No trip to the Christmas City is complete without a trip to Hotel B Ice Cream Parlor. Located right across the street from the hotel, you will find a delicious selection of Penn State Creamery Ice Cream.

If you decide to visit Bethlehem, you’ll want to take in some of the museums and historical sites, such as the 1761 Tannery, the 1869 Luckenbach Mill, the Moravian Museum of Bethlehem, or the Kemerer Museum of Decorative Arts. You can take a guided tour or visit the various sites at your leisure.

The holidays in Bethlehem are truly special with so much to see and do. If you visit in the next couple of weeks and feel like venturing away from the historic district, a new outdoor ice rink has been set up at the base of the blast furnaces at SteelStacks and it will remain up through January 1. A trip to the Christmas City is a great way enjoy the holiday season.

Ruth Corcoran is a professional marketer, former restaurant owner, and community advocate. She resides in Bear Creek. Readers can reach Ruth by emailing

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