Happy New Year to all. Sue and I went to Bethlehem, PA last weekend. Bethlehem calls itself the "Christmas City". In 1937, the Bethlehem Chamber of Commerce started a nationwide letter writing effort to other Chambers of Commerce asking each of them to notify their local newspapers of the campaign to make Bethlehem, Pennsylvania “the Christmas City”. They asked that people throughout the country send their Christmas cards to Bethlehem to receive the “Christmas City” cancellation. Most of the Chambers participated and more than 185,000 pieces of mail inundated the Bethlehem Post Office.
Bethlehem is the home of the Moravian Church in the US and Moravian College. Most people have never heard of the Moravian Church, but Sue grew up attending the Moravian Church in Riverside and we've attended Christmas services there the last couple of years. The city was started by the Moravians in 1741 when they came to America from an area of Europe that is now part of the Czech Republic, Moravia. The Moravians were able to purchase 500 acres along the Monacacy Creek in the Bethlehem area to build a town. They located their crafts, trades, and industries along the creek and their dwellings on the limestone bluff above the creek. They grouped their houses together, surrounding them with kitchen gardens and orchards. They lived in a communal society organized into groups, called choirs, and segregated by age, gender, and marital status and built large choir houses. In addition to living together, Moravians worked together under the General Economy, a system where everyone works and provides for the good of the community and, in return, receives care from birth to death. It was interesting to learn that the early Moravians led similar life styles, but not quite as severe, as those Germans that settled the Ephrata Cloister that we visited last fall. With the coming of the Revolutionary War and the outside influences as a result of the influx of “strangers” as those who were not Moravians were called, there was a slow decline in this lifestyle. By the early 1800's, major changes were occurring in the country and Bethlehem was turning away from its founding ideals and becoming a more mainstream American settlement.
The Moravian Historic District in Bethlehem contains a number of museums and churches that are open for tours. We visited the Moravian Museum and went on a tour with a women dressed in period costume who explained the history and lifestyle of the Moravians in Bethlehem. There is also a collection of Christmas Putz's in the Sisters House where women lived. As with most Moravian customs, Christ is the center of the Christmas celebration. This is symbolized by the putz, which is a depiction of the story of Jesus’ birth. It can be a simple manger scene, but in its most elaborate form, they can fill a room. The word putz comes from the German word putzen which means to decorate or clean. The manger is always the center of any putz. It is more than a nativity scene with adoring shepherds. It presents the Gospel in miniature from Isaiah’s prophecy and Mary’s annunciation to the visit of the wisemen and the flight into Egypt. Modern put's are often personalized by the family that builds it with inclusion of an unusual animal in the scene.
We also went to the Kemerer Museum of Decorative Arts to see the Stars of Bethlehem. It is a collection of Moravian quilts from the 1830's to 40's. The museum also contains Annie Kemerer's personal collection of Pennsylvania German textiles, fine furniture, Bohemian glass, and Kemerer's 200-piece wedding china. The collection was donated to the Historic Bethlehem Museums and Sites on her death in 1951.
To add to the Christmas feeling while we were in Bethlehem it snowed enough to put a white coating around town. We bought a tour ticket for 4 museum, but only managed to get to 2. Since the tickets are good for 12 months, we'll surely return to Bethlehem in 2015, probably before Christmas, to see the other 2 museums and the other Christmas activities that take place. In addition to the history there are plenty of good places to eat in Bethlehem. We ate at the Bethlehem Brew Works and Mama Nina's Foccacheria, both were excellent.
We'll be leaving home for Florida on Sunday. It's about a week too late as this week has been brutally cold with some snow. I guess as I get older the cold and snow are not as much fun any more and the more time we spend in the south the better. Stay tuned.