Bethlehem’s Christkindlmarkt has been a beloved tradition for the past 29 years, as visitors from around the world travel to the Christmas City to take in the sights and sounds and do some holiday shopping at the German-inspired market.
After adopting a revised format in 2020 due to the COVID pandemic, Christkindlmarkt is back in all its glory this season, and its organizers couldn’t be more excited for the return of the holiday spirit it brings to the Lehigh Valley.
On this week’s episode of Saucon Source’s No Rain Date podcast, host Josh Popichak sat down with two people closely tied to the Southside Bethlehem holiday festivities, ArtsQuest’s Director of Communications Nicole Harrell and Programming Specialist Addyson Young.
Harrell and Young brought us up to speed on some of the most exciting events planned for the Christmas City this holiday season, as well as their expert tips for getting the most out of your visit to Christkindlmarkt.
1 – At Christkindlmarkt it’s St. Nicholas, NOT Santa Claus.
Christkindlmarkt, like many Bethlehem traditions, draws upon various aspects of German culture. Harrell said the market includes elements commonly associated with the indoor-outdoor markets that visitors to Germany around the holidays have come to expect, like its focus on artisans and craft vendors.
The story of St. Nicholas recalls the Christian Bishop from long ago, who provided for sick and needy children of his time. In keeping with the traditional story, visitors to Christkindlmarkt won’t find Santa Claus, but there are many events scheduled throughout the market where children and their families can spend time with St. Nicholas.
Other examples of German influence at Christkindlmarkt include the vending of traditional German mulled wine, which visitors can find at the Vynecrest Vineyards and Winery booth located in the Retail Tent or the Franklin Hill Vineyards booth in the Entertainment Tent. Traditionally served hot, mulled wine is a delicious treat that will also keep you warm as you shop at Christkindlmarkt.
2 – Pick up a traditional German handmade ornament the Käthe Wohlfahrt booth.
Speaking of traditional German influence, the Käthe Wohlfahrt booth has become a staple of Christkindlmarkt, where visitors can shop for handmade ornaments, nutcrackers and other collectibles made by the company from Rodenberg, Germany.
“Käthe Wohlfahrt is a huge part of Christkindlmarkt,” Harrell said. “People come just to look at the Käthe Wohlfahrt display.”
The Käthe Wohlfahrt booth is located in the Retail Tent, and it is the most robust display featured in the market. In fact, organizer Jodi Hunter says it takes volunteers more than three weeks to get all of its merchandise set up.
Their 2021 offering’s include brand new schwibbogens, Erzebirge pyramids, nutcrackers and incense smokers.
3 – Support local vendors and have a chat with the crafters themselves.
While visitors to Christkindlmarkt have come to love Käthe Wohlfahrt ornaments, the market also provides visitors the opportunity to support a large selection of local vendors.
“We have more than 160 vendors, and more than a hundred are based in Pennsylvania and the surrounding area,” Harrell said.
Christkindlmarkt is packed full of unique Bethlehem keepsakes you won’t find anywhere else. Whether you’re drawn to the ornaments made by the glass blowing artists from the Banana Factory, or Michael Sandy Photography’s breathtaking Bethlehem prints, you’ll be sure to find a wide variety of unique, local gifts at Christkindlmarkt.
Best of all, you can oftentimes speak directly to the crafter who made the holiday gift you bought at Christkindlmarkt, which can add some extra charm, or even a helpful tip or two for getting the most out of your purchase.
4 – Shop for FREE on Friday night’s between 6 and 8 p.m.
Past visitors to Christkindlmarkt are familiar with its $10 to $12 admission fee, but thanks to a partnership with T-Mobile, admission fees are being waived from 6 to 8 p.m. on Fridays this year.
Make a plan to get to the market on the evenings of Dec. 10 and Dec. 17 to save yourself the admission fee and spend more on the endless selection of holiday gifts, food and drink.
“I personally think it looks the coolest at night,” Harrell said. “Especially that Friday night when it’s free admission. That’s really a sweet spot to get the best view.”
5 – Get in the holiday “spirit” with alchol-infused desserts from Cynful Bliss.
New at Christkindlmarkt this year is Philadelphia-based Cynful Bliss, who is serving up their signature alcohol-infused desserts in mason jars.
Their offerings include a banana pudding infused with banana rum cream, whiskey-soaked bananas and mini Nilla wafers, a Godiva White Chocolate infused cheesecake with sangria soaked berries and many more which, according to Harrell are absolutely delicious.
Christkindlmarkt also has a fair selection of spirits and other adult drinks available for shoppers. Harrell recommends stopping by Bethlehem’s very own Social Still, whose bar in tent 3 is designed to provide the look and feel of a ski lodge.
The Colony Meadery and Eight Oaks Distillery are also popular spirit destinations.
6 – Warm up with new coffee vendor Uncommon Grounds.
Christkindlmarkt is a self-contained, heated event, so you shouldn’t have to worry too much about bundling up to do your Christmas shopping.
Harrell, however, recommends stepping outside for a quick photo op and coffee from another new vendor at Christkindlmarkt in 2021.
“There’s actually a new coffee vendor. They’re called Uncommon Grounds, and they’re right outside so you can take your picture with the Steel Stacks and Christmas tree in the background, and get some warm coffee too,” Harrell said.
If you’re still cold after the picture, head to the Glass Tent to warm up as you watch a live glass blowing demonstration. Harrell says the Glass Tent also happens to be the warmest of the market’s four tents.
7 – Get your holiday shopping done for everyone on your list.
With over 160 vendors, it should come as no surprise that Christkindlmarkt has holiday offerings for everyone on your list, even your four-legged friends.
Harrell personally makes a habit to stop by Whisker Biscuits for its large selection of hand-crafted dog and cat treats, and SnugPups sells custom coats to keep your furry companion warm throughout the winter.
Chriskindlmarkt also offers events for the whole family to enjoy. Harrell recommends Breakfast With St. Nicholas, which is held on Saturday mornings throughout Christkindlmarkt. Tickets must be purchased in advance, which can be done from the Christmas City website.
Admission includes a breakfast with St. Nicholas in the Tannenbaum Café, as well as a family photo with the man himself. Families receive a 5×7 photo to take home with them to remember their visit. Breakfast tickets also include admission to Christkindlmarkt for the day.
8 – Bring your own reusable shopping bags.
In case it hasn’t been made clear yet, you are probably going to find a lot of great gift ideas for everyone on your Christmas list (including yourself) when you visit Christkindlmarkt. The last thing you want is to run out of hands to carry your holiday shopping haul during your visit, so Harrell recommends bringing some reusable shopping bags with you.
Use her tip to cut down on your plastic use and ensure you can buy every gift that catches your eye at Christkindlemarkt.
9 – Check out the musical artists in the Entertainment, Food & Artisans Tent.
Art of all kind is celebrated each holiday season at Christkindlmarkt, and the Entertainment, Food and Artisans Tent always has a stacked lineup of the area’s favorite local musical acts.
2021’s lineup includes the Saucon Valley Middle School Choir, Kendal Conrad, Seth Witcher and many more. The full lineup of performers at 2021 Christkindlmarkt is available at ChristmastCity.org.
10 – Attend another ArtsQuest holiday event after your visit to Christkindlmarkt.
ArtsQuest has a bunch of fun holiday programming scheduled for visitors to enjoy after they’ve finished shopping at Christkindlmarkt and throughout the rest of the holiday season.
One of Addyson Young’s favorite events is the Holiday Quote-Along Series.
“We have your favorite Christmas movies, and we actually encourage you to talk during the film so you can quote along with all of your favorite films,” she said.
The Holiday Quote-Along Series this year includes favorites like National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and How The Grinch Stole Christmas.
“It really just gets you in the Christmas spirit to be in a cinema packed with people watching National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, and you’re all at the same time saying those memorable quotes,” Young said.
The series also features a screening of Elf on Wednesday, Dec. 8, which includes a special pre-screening event called Buddy the Elf Wreath Wine’d Down.
“That is a crafting event at 6 p.m. you can sign up for,” Young said. “Drink some wine or beer, and then you get to make a wreath that looks like (Buddy) the Elf.”
The Wine’d Down event ends just in time to head into the Frank Banko Alehouse cinema and quote along to Elf.
For fans of the classic Christmas movies, ArtsQuest is bringing back its Christmas Classic Matinees series. This year’s event will feature afternoon screenings of White Christmas, The Shop Around the Corner and It’s a Wonderful Life.
While Christkindlmarkt ends on Sunday, Dec. 19, ArtsQuest is bringing back A Golden Girls Drag Christmas for its third year at the end of December.
The relatively new ArtsQuest holiday tradition features local drag queens playing your favorite Golden Girls and performing a live stage reading of the two Christmas episodes of Golden Girls.
The event features six performances from Dec. 26-28, and it has quickly become a local holiday favorite.
“Our first show is already sold out, so if that sounds like something you’re interested in, definitely you want to get your tickets soon,” Young said.
BONUS – Go home and vote for Christkindlmarkt as USA TODAY’s 2021 Readers’ Choice Award for Best Holiday Market.
Christkindlmarkt regularly attracts international media attention, and it is once again nominated for USA TODAY’s 2021 Readers’ Choice Award in the Best Holiday Market category — an award it has won twice before.
If you enjoy your visit to the market be sure to vote for Christkindlmarkt before voting closes at the end of Monday, Dec. 6.
“I personally think we should have the title here in Bethlehem,” Harrell said. “It’s the Christmas City.”