Bethlehem, Pa. is known as “Christmas City, USA,” and this city celebrates Christmas like no other. Christmas in Bethlehem is full of special traditions, but one of the most unique traditions is the annual German Christmas Market known as “Christkindlmarkt.” Part Christmas Market and part Christmas festival, Christkindlmarkt is 15 days of fun and festivities for the whole family. Modeled after Christmas markets in Germany, Christkindlmarkt combines vendors and artisans from all over the world, plus live music and food, under two tents to give you the most unique shopping experience you’ve ever had.
Christkindlmarkt is always held Thursdays through Sundays, from the Friday after Thanksgiving through the weekend before Christmas. It’s open at 10 a.m. every day, closing at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 6 p.m. on Sundays. A one-day ticket is $8, but a season pass (good for all days of the festival) is only $14. Since some crafters only come for one weekend, each weekend brings new things to look at, so if you live in the area, I highly recommend getting a season pass, as it pays for itself in only two visits.
What to Expect
On your first visit to this Christmas festival, you might feel overwhelmed at the enormity of it all. When you arrive at Christkindlmarkt, get a program which includes a map of the entire Christmas market, as well as a list of all of the vendors and crafters present that weekend. The first tent you enter after the ticket window is the Christmas tent. This tent consists of shops selling their wares, not crafters. The front of this tent always has unique Bethlehem, PA merchandise such as shirts, ornaments, and even Christmas City hot chocolate. Right next door you’ll see the Banana Factory’s big tree. The Banana Factory is Bethlehem’s premier spot for the visual arts, and one of their biggest claims to fame is their glass blowing. Every year they release a special hand-blown ornament for the festival; these make beautiful keepsakes or gifts. You’ll also find some great booths for Christmas decorations and even local wine (buy a cup of warm mulled wine to sip while you shop). In the back of this tent is the famous Kathe Wohlfahrt shop, right from Germany. Here you will find beautiful ornaments, intricate, handmade Christmas decorations, nutcrackers, and a wall of German Bier Steins, my husband’s personal favorite. Don’t miss this shop for an authentic Christkindlmarkt experience.
Outside this tent is the courtyard, where a huge Christmas tree stands in the middle. If it’s not too cold, grab a bench and watch the ice sculpting. As sculptures are finished throughout the day, they are placed around the courtyard to view until they melt. My kids are always fascinated with the chainsaws and big blocks of ice; it’s a fun thing to watch, and a great place to catch a breath and take a break. There are a few vendors out here as well, including an ironwork booth that sells great ornaments for the garden.
The second tent is the crafter’s tent. Here you will find just about any kind of handmade craft you can imagine, from beautiful hand-carved wooden bowls and vessels to intricate glasswork and even paper ornaments. This is a great place to get items personalized for gifts or find something truly unique to adorn your own home. In the center of this tent are food booths, a candy store, the live music stage, and plenty of tables and chairs on which to sit, eat and listen to the music. Our family always makes sure to have dinner here at least one night. There’s a variety of foods to choose from, ranging from traditional German and Pennsylvania-Dutch fare to Southern barbeque and good old American pizza and burgers. The music is always good, so it’s nice to just sit and enjoy the festivities while enjoying a meal or a snack.
In the back of the tent is where a German Santa sits on his throne for children to come and visit. Instead of the traditional mall Santa, this Kris Kringle wears a traditional German robe, hat, and boots. Children can sit on his lap and give him their lists, get a picture, and drop off their letters. Next to Santa is always the kids’ shop, where kids can take a break and play with Melissa & Doug toys, and neighboring that is a kids’ craft area where kids can pay to make a special craft like a graham cracker gingerbread house.
Christmas in Bethlehem, Pa. just isn’t complete without a visit to Christkindlmarkt. It’s a lot of fun for the whole family, but with so much to see and shop for, you’ll probably want to come back at least a second time on your own to see all it has to offer. Make sure to give yourself enough time to see it all, take a break to enjoy some food and music, and have a great time at this unique Christmas experience.
Christkindlmarkt in Bethlehem, Pa.
Thursdays-Saturdays, 10 a.m.-8 p.m.
Sundays 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
Held from the Friday after Thanksgiving through the weekend before Christmas
One-day pass $8
Season pass $14
Visit the website to print out an admission coupon, good for $1 off of admission.
For more on Christmas shopping in Bethlehem, see: Shopping For Unique Christmas Gifts in Bethlehem, PA.