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Christkindlmarkt Bethlehem Attendance Tops 90,000 For First Time

January 7, 2019 | Written by Mark Demko

2018 Attendance Sets New Record for 26-year-old Holiday Marketplace

More than 90,000 visitors attended Christkindlmarkt Bethlehem, the holiday marketplace taking place at SteelStacks in Bethlehem weekends from Nov. 15-Dec. 23, setting a new attendance record for the event. Total 2018 attendance was 92,297, up nearly four percent over the previous record of 88,923 set in 2017.

Celebrating its 26th, Christkindlmarkt included a record number of artisans and vendors – more than 200 in all – including 48 who were at the market for the first time. Combined, these vendors offered a unique holiday shopping experience featuring thousands upon thousands of holiday gift and décor ideas.

Adding to the Christkindlmarkt magic were glassblowing and ice sculpting demonstrations; the return of German ornament manufacturer Käthe Wohlfahrt, which offered more than 2,000 handmade products at Christkindlmarkt; and the event’s popular St. Nicholas, who was on hand to hear children’s wish lists.

This year’s calendar made it possible for ArtsQuest to offer a sixth weekend of Christkindlmarkt, providing more opportunities than ever for people to visit and shop at the holiday market.

“Since its inception, Christkindlmarkt has drawn more than 1.3 million people to Bethlehem during the holiday season, serving as a gateway to everything taking place in the Christmas City,” says Kassie Hilgert, President & CEO of ArtsQuest, the nonprofit that presents Christkindlmarkt. “Over the past three years, ArtsQuest has focused on enhancing the experience for our guests by expanding our holiday offerings and adding in two new artisan tents, resulting in a roughly 40-percent increase in attendance since 2015. It’s truly wonderful to see so many people visiting our event each year, but what’s even more important is that the majority of these guests then take the Christmas City trolleys to explore everything Bethlehem offers during the holidays.”

Established in 1993 to complement tourism efforts in the Christmas City during the holidays, Christkindlmarkt has long focused on showcasing the region’s small businesses and talented artisans. While vendors come from more than 20 states, approximately 60 percent of the participants are from the Lehigh Valley and surrounding areas of Eastern Pennsylvania.

“I love the crowds that Christkindlmarkt regularly draws from all over the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic Region,” says George Gilreath, owner of the Bethlehem-based Casa De Jorge Salsa, which has been attending Christkindlmarkt for 16 years. “I always have customers come here whom I’ve sold salsa to at other festivals from as far away as Virginia and even Maine. Christkindlmarkt is by far my best event of the year.”

Helping to make the Christkindlmarkt experience merry and bright for the thousands of visitors who attended the market were 34 supporting sponsors led by presenting sponsor Univest Bank and Trust Co., as well as 900 volunteers who contributed more than 7,000 hours of time. Christkindlmarkt patrons also shared in the spirit of the holidays by giving back in a big way, donating more than $5,000 to ArtsQuest’s arts education programs for youth via the market’s annual “Donate a $1” Snowflake Fundraising Campaign.

“ArtsQuest thanks all of the volunteers, vendors, artisans, sponsors and patrons who come together every year to make Christkindlmarkt one of the best holiday experiences in North America,” Hilgert says. “This event draws media attention and guests from across the country, and one of the biggest reasons is the incredible support of our community, which has helped create and shape this authentic holiday experience.”

In addition to ArtsQuest, more than 20 other community and nonprofit organizations offered holiday programming in the Christmas City this year. Other attractions included Historic Bethlehem Museums & Sites’ horse-drawn carriage rides and Bethlehem by Night Bus Tours, shopping on historic Main Street, Central Moravian Church’s popular nativity display, Touchstone Theatre’s annual Christmas City Follies and more.

“Christmas City USA attracts visitors from far and wide and 2018 was no different, with this holiday season a very successful one for Historic Bethlehem Museums & Sites,” says Charlene Donchez Mowers, President of Historic Bethlehem Museums & Sites. “Our combination ticket, which provided discounted admission to Christkindlmarkt and Trees of Historic Bethlehem, offered a road map for visitors to conveniently experience both Historic Downtown Bethlehem and South Bethlehem. We are excited about working together collaboratively to present Christmas in Bethlehem in 2019.”

Bethlehem Mayor Bob Donchez notes the holidays are a very important time for Bethlehem from the tourism and economic development perspectives.

“Year-in and year-out, our merchants, businesses, community groups and nonprofits come together to create a magical experience for hundreds of thousands of people looking for a unique way to celebrate the holidays,” Donchez says. “From holiday attractions like Christkindlmarkt and Central Moravian Church, to the city’s world-class restaurants, the Christmas City draws guests from throughout the U.S.

“The holiday season provides a huge boost to our economy in November and December, but more importantly it introduces countless people to everything Bethlehem has to offer, inspiring many of them to return at other times of the year to visit our attractions, shops and restaurants.”

Christkindlmarkt 2019 dates are Nov. 22-24, Nov. 29-Dec. 1 and Dec. 5-8, 12-15 and 19-22. For more information on Christkindlmarkt and holiday attractions in Bethlehem, visit www.christmascity.org.

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