The star atop South Mountain beckons travelers to Bethlehem, Pa., in every season, but at Christmastime the city truly shines. Decorations in the historic district follow the Moravian custom of windows lighted by candlelight and doorways decorated with a star above them. Visitors can choose from candlelight walking tours in the historic district, candlelight concerts of 18th- and 19th-century music, daily horse-drawn carriage rides, a live Christmas pageant, and Nightlight Bus Tours, which take visitors to the mountaintop for a close inspection of the star and a spectacular view of the city.
This year a brand new event is expected to bring even more visitors to the city. The Christkindlmarkt (pronounced kris-kin-dill-mart), a yuletide market fair, will be held from Nov. 27 to Dec. 12. It is based on outdoor Christmas markets held for centuries in central squares of cities, towns, and villages all over Germany. The Bethlehem Christkindlmarkt features more than 100 different vendors, entertainment, food and children's activities. Two large heated tents will be set up at Main and
Spring streets. One will house crafts, food and entertainment. The second will offer children's activities and performances. A third tent in a nearby area will contain a petting zoo with lambs, goats and other animals.
More than 100 crafts people and merchants will offer everything from Victorian clothing to handcrafted German Santas. A traditional German woodcarver and a contemporary jeweler will come all the way from Schwabisch Gmund, Bethlehem's sister city in Germany, to participate in the festival. Other crafts people will participate on a rotating basis so that each week you'll find a different selection of wares.
In a connecting tent, children of all ages can take a fantasy stroll through the Black Forest, see a life-sized gingerbread house (made out of real gingerbread), visit St. Nicholas in front of his castle and enjoy daily puppet shows by the Brownstone Puppet Theatre. Organists, church choirs and school choral groups will perform music of the season throughout the 16-day fair. Hours are noon to 9 p.m. daily. Admission is $4 for adults; $2 for children under 12. Free shuttle service will be available from Martin Tower, Eighth and Eaton avenues (off Route 378), weekdays beginning at 5:30 p.m. and weekends at noon. A free trolley will also be operating within Historic Bethlehem. For information, call (215) 861-0678.
Christmas at Oatlands'
Oatlands, the National Trust property near Leesburg, Va., offers "Christmas at Oatlands," a view of holiday celebrations of earlier times. Decorations reflect the tastes of the 1880s, re-created from descriptions found in the diary of a member of the family that lived there. The celebration opened yesterday and will continue through Dec. 22. Additional days are scheduled this year, and the mansion will be open after Christmas from Dec. 26 through Dec. 30.
This year's event celebrates the 100th anniversary of the Christmas wedding of Elizabeth Grayson Carter to Morgan Hawley Beach in 1893. During candlelight tours on Saturday evenings from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., costumed actors will re-create wedding preparations in the Carter household in such scenes as the arrival of wedding guests, a display of gifts, the bride in her wedding dress and carols sung by the family around the piano. The mansion will be adorned with boxwood kissing balls, arrangements of magnolia leaves and other decorations using natural materials gathered on plantation grounds. The large tree comes from a nearby farm and is strung with popcorn, cranberries and small paper fans.
St. Nicholas will visit Oatlands Carriage House Dec. 11 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. That evening the Chamber Choir from Loudoun County High School will perform a free holiday concert. More free holiday music can be heard Dec. 18, when the Celtic group Iona performs there between 5:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.
Daytime tours run from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday to Saturday; 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Sundays. Dec. 26-30 hours will be 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Admission is $5. Saturday evening candlelight tours cost $6. The plantation is on Route 15, six miles south of Leesburg. Call (703) 777-3174 or (800) 752-6118.
The first weekend in December always brings a rash of holiday events. Here are some that should not be overlooked.
The eighth annual Candlelight Christmas in Chadds Ford, Pa., will be held Dec. 4 from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. This year's tour includes a private residence that was converted from an old schoolhouse, an early 1800s Georgian farmhouse, a converted barn home and Echo Valley Farm, which will be featured in two national magazines in December.
The tour also visits the 1725 John Chads House, decorated by Brandywine gardeners to interpret "The Night Before Christmas" silhouette and the Chadds Ford Historical Society "Barn," where visitors can sample sugar plums and other early American sweets, listen to Christmas music played on the mountain dulcimer, and see a display of gingerbread houses and gingerbread ornaments. At the Brandywine battlefield, re-enactors of Revolutionary War soldiers lead guests across the candlelight battlefield to the visitor center and historic Gilpin House to hear music of the Colonial era and sample buttered pound cake. Homemade soups and hot drinks will be for sale at the battlefield.
Tickets cost $15 for adults; $5 for children 12 and under. Tickets will be for sale at the John Chad House on Route 100 North near U.S. 1 and other tour sites. Call (215) 388-7376.
Odessa home tours
Odessa is a tiny Delaware town with roots that go back to Colonial times. "Christmas in Odessa" on Dec. 4 is an opportunity to visit some of the area's restored private homes as well as some of its newer ones. Many of these homes are decorated in the Colonial style.
Sponsored by the Women's Club of Odessa, the annual event includes a daytime tour of homes in town and in the surrounding countryside and an evening candlelight tour of homes in Odessa. This year the two tours will be held on the same day. The daytime tour runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Buses will be available to take tour participants to the houses in the surrounding areas for a $2 fare. The candlelight tour runs from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.
A Christmas craft shop will be open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the fire hall with items by juried artisans. Concerts and other events are planned throughout the day. Food will be available in the fire hall, and dinner will be served at St. Paul's Church from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is $10 per tour or $15 for both. Odessa is on U.S. 13 between Wilmington and Dover. Call (302) 378-4900.