Ruth and I went to Allentown this past year because we had not been to this city of more than 100,000 people before. We had some great experiences there but liked Bethlehem, PA even more. Both cities and Easton are in the Lehigh Valley north of Philadelphia and easy to miss as travel destinations. They should not be. Easton is home to the Crayola corporate offices and the Crayola Experience. Allentown has Mack Trucks on its mind and an interesting Liberty Bell Museum. Bethlehem’s once world famous steel factory is still there, but it is struggling. A small part of it has become the National Museum of Industrial History that should not be visited unless you engage a volunteer and have him or her take you on a tour of it. The Bethlehem steel plant has been closed for more than 2 decades and is a rusty ghost trying to revitalize itself with festivals and such. If you want to really see this behemoth, walk across the Hoover Mason Trestle, an elevated walkway with dramatic views of it.
Bethlehem is where we spent most of our time in the area. We thoroughly enjoyed the historic Hotel Bethlehem, the shops along Bethlehem’s vivid Main Street, and learning about Moravians. Known as “Christmas City” since 1741, Bethlehem is merry and bright with Moravian stars. The newly remodeled Moravian Bookstore on Main has been there since 1745 and is the oldest continuously operating bookstore in America. Some say it’s the world’s oldest bookstore. The area around it, home to 6 Moravian congregations, contains a Moravian College and a nationally recognized Historic Landmark District. Signs helped me to better understand this hilly community. The one at the very old cemetery with only flat gravestones was consecrated by Count von Zinzendorf.
Zinzendorf became the agent for renewal of this faith in the 18th century and is the star Moravian. This is a Protestant denomination from Central Europe that pre-dates Martin Luther and has about 750,000 adherents today. There are Moravian congregations in more than 12 states and many foreign countries. Moravians have ‘lovefeasts” and do not proselytize and promote themselves. Like Quakers, their services are sermonless. The Moravian star seen above is their main symbol, and every Christmas features it and both are big deals to Moravians. The Moravian Star and its variations mean many points and internal illumination. They were first seen in Germany about 1850, and visitors to Bethlehem will see them in abundance because this is the home of the Moravian archives. Christmas Eve and Watch Night on New Year’s Eve remain important occasions. If you want to learn more and I did, the bookstore has a small Moravian section.
The Hotel Bethlehem is inviting. “Experience the elegance” is their catchphrase. We had a fine dinner there, and I photographed the Moravian Star above on its check-in desk. I enjoyed browsing its Gallery of Distinguished Guests that included ageless Tony Bennett, Vice President Mike Pence, talkative Seth Myers, and auto genius Henry Ford.