Saturday, December 23, 2023

The Real Miracle of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania


On Thursday evening, I watched an Hallmark movie called "Miracle in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania."  It was the usual Hallmark movie but set in what they called Bethlehem, PA.  It certainly wasn't the Bethlehem I know.  I was born in that town and spent most of my youth there.  Most of my relatives still live there; second generations of family that didn't want to let the family home go on the real estate market.

The reason I didn't recognize the setting was pretty simple:  Hallmark filmed the movie in Manitoba, Canada.  It has created quite a buzz in our region and prompted actor Daniel Roebuck to film his own holiday movie in our beautiful area (read here).  Nothing against Manitoba but Bethlehem has it's own magic and it just can't be captured anywhere else.

The real miracle of Bethlehem, PA is different than what you might expect.  For most of the people reading this blog, you will remember how difficult the 1980s and 1990s were for industry in the USA.  Bruce Springsteen wrote a song about what he was seeing in New Jersey called "My Hometown"; I remember my father and I talking about how  that song encapsulated our fears here in the Lehigh Valley.

The valley had two large industries:  Mack Trucks in Allentown and Bethlehem Steel in Bethlehem.  During the last two decades of the 20th century, folks here held their breath as they awaited the inevitable closing of the plants.  It happened at Mack Trucks in 1986 when the large plant closed.  Everyone knew that it was inevitable that it would happen at the Steel as well.

But unlike many other towns, Bethlehem wasn't going down without a fight.  In 1984, the entire downtown area was closed to traffic and a new celebration began: Musikfest.  For two weeks, the festival was held in the oldest part of the town.  It was magical.  The music was free and began around 11 am until about 11 pm.  There was everyone kind of music you could want to hear at different "platz" or platzes (places) throughout the downtown area.

It was incredibly scenic because Bethlehem was founded in 1741 by the Moravians and all of the original stone buildings remain intact.  Many of the buildings are still used for their original purposes like the Sister's House which still houses single women who need a place to live.

The festival gets national attention each year and welcomes over a million visitors.  Through the years, my family and I have attended various concerts there and saw Arlo Guthrie, Ray Charles, The Clancey Brothers, and other headliners.

And it didn't end there.  In 1995 the whole Bethlehem Steel plant was closed.  The region that was the steel plant now houses the National Museum of Industrial History.  There's also a casino and the majority of the south side is an arts area.  Musikfest was relocated there in 2011.  Other festivals in the city include Celtic Fest in the Fall and Christkindlemart during the Christmas season.

Bethlehem is the city that refuses to die.  It's renaissance has provided a blue print for other historic areas nearby, most notably the neighboring city of Easton which is also been reinvigorated the last few decades and boasts the oldest farmer's market in the U.S.

Probably the most popular show on HGTV is Hometown which illuminates the need of preservation of one's community.  It's a wonderful show but to me, the champion of town preservation is Bethlehem, PA.

My childhood was illuminated by the large star on the mountain above our city.  It was and remains the most magical place I know.

Have a safe and happy day!


  1. This information was so interesting. It's awesome that your town/city reinvented itself. The town/city we live close to did the same thing back in the 90's. It's good to see places stay alive, Happy Christmas!

  2. What an amazing town - I never knew the history, and it is inspirational. It looks like a beautiful place to live.
    Merry Christmas!