Holiday marketplace draws nearly 70,000 people to Bethlehem for the Christmas season

tile-eventinfoAn expanded Christkindlmarkt Bethlehem, highlighted by a record number of artisans, drew 69,439 people – an all-time high – to the Christmas City this Christmas season. The 2016 Christkindlmarkt attendance topped the previous record of 64,612, set in 2015, by 7.5 percent.

The 2016 version of Christkindlmarkt featured the first major changes at the holiday marketplace since it moved to SteelStacks in 2011.  Among the enhancements this year were the addition of two new shopping tents, one of which featured an all-new home for the event’s popular St. Nicholas; major enhancements to the event’s holiday decor; and the addition of new children’s attractions such as the holiday craft activities presented by Banana Factory artists and the opportunity to meet the Just Born PEEPS® Chick on select Saturdays. From Dec. 8-11, more than 19,000 people strolled Christkindlmarkt’s aisles while looking for unique gifts for family and friends, the most ever for a single weekend in the event’s 24-year history.

Started in 1993 to help support Bethlehem’s holiday tourism season, Christkindlmarkt grew steadily during its first two decades. From 2010 to 2014, attendance at the market averaged 59,000 people annually, with ArtsQuest recently identifying the event as one that could have an even larger impact on the community in the years to come.

“As a community-based arts and cultural organization, ArtsQuest has long been committed to using our programming and events as tools for urban revitalization, as well as supporting tourism and economic development in our city and region,” says ArtsQuest President and CEO Kassie Hilgert. “Over the past two years, we have made Christkindlmarkt one of our top priorities, dedicating additional resources to expanding and promoting the event with the goal of attracting even more people to Bethlehem at Christmastime.

“We’re thrilled that so many Lehigh Valley residents and out-of-town guests visited Bethlehem this year, not only to experience Christkindlmarkt, but also to enjoy many of the other events and attractions the city has to offer.”

Dennis Costello, general manager of the Historic Hotel Bethlehem, notes that the hotel has definitely seen an increase in visitors this year.

“This has been the best Christmas season in our 94-year history,” Costello says. “Our occupancy is up over five percent and our room revenue is up 20 percent. Foot traffic into the hotel is also up and the trolley between the North and South sides is a real hit with guests. They love how easy it is to go from one side of the city to the other.”

In addition to supporting local tourism efforts, the expansion of Christkindlmarkt also highlights ArtsQuest’s renewed commitment to providing additional opportunities for area artisans to support their livelihood via events like Musikfest and other festivals.  This year, Christkindlmarkt featured 190 different artisans and vendors during its five-week run, with 60 percent of them coming from the Lehigh Valley and surrounding areas of Eastern Pennsylvania.

“Although I only travel 100 miles or less from my home for arts and crafts events, I have shipped orders to 35 states this year,” says Hedge Sefcovic, owner of the Emmaus-based A Natural Alternative Soaps & Toiletries, which has been attending Christkindlmarkt for 16 years. “I know that the national draw of ArtsQuest events such as Christkindlmarkt is the reason why a small, local artisan such as myself can have such a nationwide customer base.

“My business philosophy of selling locally and sourcing supplies locally means that I rely on events such as Christkindlmarkt to be the backbone of my business. The large draw of the event means I can count on it providing 15 percent of my yearly sales, as well as residual sales throughout the year from the event’s patrons.”

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 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.

“The holiday season is one of the busiest and most important times of the year for our merchants here in the city,” says Bethlehem Mayor Robert Donchez.  “Thanks to attractions like Christkindlmarkt, Historic Bethlehem’s nighttime bus tours and beautiful Central Moravian Church, Bethlehem has become known as one of the premier destinations in the United States to celebrate the holidays. While many people visit the Christmas City for Christmas, the real benefit to our city is that many of them will return throughout the year to patronize our businesses, shopping districts and restaurants.”

Hilgert notes Christkindlmarkt is an important event not only for the city, but also for ArtsQuest because of the impact it has on the nonprofit’s other programs throughout the year, including Musikfest.

“Christkindlmarkt is the single-largest fundraiser we do every year to support our free arts and cultural programing for the region, more than 65 percent of which is free,” she says. “We appreciate all of the support from our artists, vendors, volunteers, sponsors and patrons who helped to make this year one for the record books. Next year will mark the 25th anniversary of Christkindlmarkt and we can’t wait to get started on the planning for this very special year.”

Dates for Christkindlmarkt 2017 – the silver anniversary of the event – are Nov. 17-19 and 24-26; Nov. 30-Dec. 3; and Dec. 7-10, 14-17 and 21-23, 2017. For more information, visit