Christmas in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania: Christmas Candles and Lights
In 1937 the Bethlehem Chamber of Commerce began to promote the town’s Christmas celebrations as a tourist attraction, billing Bethlehem as "Christmas City U.S.A.” The city’s residents quickly adopted the campaign, organizing a city-wide display of Christmas lights. Bethlehem’s most distinctive lighting custom consists of placing a single lit candle in the windows of homes, stores, and other businesses. Though it can only be traced back to the late 1920s, some researchers claim that early Moravian immigrants brought this custom with them from a Moravian community in Germany. There the flame from a single candle left burning in the window during Advent was understood to signal a welcome for the Christ child. By 1940 this custom had spread far beyond Bethlehem’s Moravian community to become a city-wide practice. For reasons of safety many today have replaced real candles with electric lights shaped like candles. Many people in Bethlehem light the candles in their windows on the first Sunday in Advent and keep them lit until Epiphany.
The city also hosts an impressive outdoor lighting display. Popular nighttime bus tours led by guides in traditional Moravian dress fill up quickly during the holiday season. On nearby South Mountain a giant, electrically lit star beckons visitors to the Christmas city. First erected in 1935, the "Star of Bethlehem” has been rebuilt several times. This traditional, five-pointed Christmas star with extending rays of light measures 81 feet in height and 53 feet in width. Two hundred forty-six light bulbs keep the display glowing through the night. In past times the city of Bethlehem only lit the star during the Christmas season. Since the mid-1990s, the city has kept it illuminated year-round. Indeed, the five-pointed star can be found on the city’s official seal. There the five points stand for religion, education, music, industry, and recreation, five important components of the city’s identity.