Photo by Craig Roberts

Holiday Market Sets New Attendance Record for Third Year in a Row

BETHLEHEM, PA—Nearly 90,000 people enjoyed the holiday cheer and unique shopping experience at Christkindlmarkt Bethlehem during the event’s six-weekend run, Nov. 17-Dec. 23 at SteelStacks. The 2017 attendance of 88,923 was up 28 percent from the 69,439 who attended last year, and marked the third year in a row the holiday marketplace has set a new attendance record.
Celebrating its Silver Anniversary this year, Christkindlmarkt featured a record number of artisans and vendors – more than 175 in all – with vendors coming from more than 20 states. This year’s calendar made it possible for ArtsQuest to add a sixth weekend to Christkindlmarkt, providing more opportunities than ever for people to visit and shop at the holiday market. In most years, the event takes place over five weekends between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Kassie Hilgert, President and CEO of ArtsQuest, the nonprofit that presents Christkindlmarkt, says the expansion of Christkindlmarkt over the past two years has helped the event to not only draw more visitors to Bethlehem during the holiday season, but also provide additional support for small businesses throughout the region.

“Over the past 25 years, Christkindlmarkt has welcomed 1.3 million people to Bethlehem,” says Hilgert. “As a community-focused arts organization, we take great pride in showcasing our city and our region to so many people. Equally important, however, are the opportunities we provide to local and regional businesses. While our vendors come from across the country, the vast majority of them are from right here in the Lehigh Valley and surrounding areas of Eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey.”

This year’s Christkindlmarkt featured 29 vendors who were at the market for the very first time. Among these were Elaine Pivinski, owner of Franklin Hills Vineyards, and her son Adam Flatt of The Social Still, the popular South Bethlehem distillery he runs with his wife Kate.

“As a small business in Bethlehem for 21 years, we were so proud to showcase our handcrafted wines, grown in the Lehigh Valley, at Christkindlmarkt this year,” Pivinski says. “This year was our first year at the event, so we weren’t sure what to expect, but it went way beyond our expectations. We discovered that everyone loves to support local products, and we received so much support from the visitors, the vendors and the ArtsQuest Family.”

Among the many highlights of Christkindlmarkt this year were the United States Postal Service’s “Big Blue Box,” which was on site to ship Christkindlmarkt shoppers’ packages to family and friends across the nation; expanded arts and crafts activities for children like make your own snow globe; and the return of Käthe Wohlfahrt, the renowned German ornament designer that has been attending the event since the 1990s. Famous for its nutcrackers, incense smokers, pyramids, schwibbogens and wood, glass and pewter ornaments, Käthe Wohlfahrt featured more than 2,000 handmade products at Christkindlmarkt, including a limited-edition Christkindlmarkt collectible ornament, the first ornament it has made for a North American holiday market.

“Connecting families to time honored holiday traditions is our goal,” says Steve Thoreson, President of Kathe Wohlfahrt North America. “For nearly 20 years, we’ve had the pleasure of partnering with the Bethlehem Christkindlmarkt, our longest running Christmas Market partnership in the U.S. This past year, we were excited to have collaborated on the design and production of the 25th anniversary ornament and completed the final touches on our Rothenburg Village façade. This one-of-a-kind shopping experience helps transport customers to a more European style shopping experience.”

Helping to make the Christkindlmarkt experience merry and bright for the thousands of visitors who attended the market were 28 supporting sponsors, as well as 670 volunteers who contributed more than 4,000 hours of time. Sixteen of those individuals celebrated 25 years of volunteering at the event and were recognized at a special volunteer event at Christkindlmarkt on Nov. 19. They are: Jean Achey of Bethlehem; Joyce Butz of Allentown; Marjorie Dominick of Bethlehem; Linda Galitis of Bethlehem; William Gerencher of Bethlehem; Shoshanna Hinder of Allentown; AnneMarie Linsky of Phillipsburg; Nicholas Martocci of Roseto; Debra McNelis of Bethlehem; Justine F. Mitala of Easton; Anthony Sabino of Coopersburg; John Shivok of Bethlehem; Gerald Still of Bethlehem; Mary Lou Straka of Bethlehem; Stephanie Turek of Bethlehem; and Cindy Workman of Bethlehem.

This year, ArtsQuest also launched a new “Snowflake Campaign” to help raise awareness of its educational programs for area young people. When people purchased a Christkindlmarkt admission ticket, they were asked if they’d like to donate $1 to support educational programming, and anyone who did so was given a blue snowflake they could sign and hang on the Christkindlmarkt trees or walls. By event’s end, more than 10,000 people had made a donation, helping to raise more than $10,000 to support programs like the ArtSmart afterschool enrichment program at the Banana Factory and the Visiting Artist Residency Program, which sends teaching artists into the classrooms at local schools to work collaboratively with teachers on integrated arts programming.

“Christkindlmarkt continues to grow in popularity with each passing year thanks to the generosity of our volunteers, partners, sponsors, artisans and, of course, our patrons,” Hilgert says. “Our entire staff was blown away by the support for the Snowflake Campaign this year – we are so grateful to have the backing of the entire community when it comes to this event.”

“When people visit Christkindlmarkt, it’s often just one of the stops in their Christmas City experience. The majority of them go on to ride the trolley, shop on Bethlehem’s SouthSide or Main Street and stay and eat in our world-class restaurants. There’s no doubt that Christmastime is one of the best times of the year to be in the Christmas City.”

A one-of-a-kind family event that brings the spirit of Bethlehem alive with the season, Christkindlmarkt has twice been named one of the best holiday markets in the U.S. by Travel + Leisure, as well as one of the top holiday markets in the world by Forbes, Condé Nast Traveler and USA Today Travel. In addition to the diverse array of artisans and vendors, the market features St. Nicholas, glassblowing demonstrations, live holiday music and authentic German favorites like wursts, strudel and lebkuchen, drawing people from near and far to Bethlehem. In 2017, the market welcomed guests from 25 states, with people coming from as far away as Alabama, Colorado and Texas.

“The Christmas City has a well-deserved reputation as being one of the premier destinations in the nation to visit during the holiday season, and Christkindlmarkt is definitely one of the anchors of the Christmas experience,” says Bethlehem Mayor Bob Donchez. “I’ve heard from a number of merchants that the holiday season has been a strong one and it’s definitely exciting to see so many people eating, shopping and enjoying the attractions in the Historic Moravian District and the SouthSide Arts District. While many people discover Bethlehem for the first time during the holidays, they often end up returning to the city throughout the year. That has a huge impact on our businesses, tourism and our economy.”

Dates for Christkindlmarkt 2018 are Nov. 16-18 and 23-25; Nov. 29-Dec. 2; and Dec. 6-9, 13-16 and 20-23. For more information, visit