Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Christmas in Bethlehem - by Lynn Cunningham

My office is located on the second floor of the Main St. Commons overlooking Main and Broad Streets. Throughout the year, I am filled with pride at what a terrific community it is that I grew up in, live in and work in: when I walk outside to see a slew of Musikfest volunteers, employees and vendors setting up for the upcoming 10 day festival; when I’m working late in September and I can hear the clear sound of a lone bagpiper practicing somewhere in the neighborhood for the Celtic Classic and when I see my staff and the merchants of the downtown helping decorate the streets with hay bales, corn stalks and pumpkins to prepare for the Fall shopping season and Harvest Festival.

As the Vice President of Bethlehem for The Chamber my focus is centered on tourism, marketing and the overall financial health of the business community. Much of the work we do in the office revolves around Christmas – the logistics of bringing Christmas to the Christmas City – most of which doesn’t really involve the birth of Christ.  It is the business of Christmas: building, decorating and managing the Christmas City Village, coordinating the 100 details that go into The Community Tree Lighting Ceremony, raising the funds to pay for the 800 trees that go up throughout the town, marketing the many events that occur here during the Christmas season; and finding sponsors and managing The Christmas City Trolley. Much is riding on the success of the Christmas season and in this 75th year of Bethlehem being designated as “Christmas City, USA” it is more so.  The one event that does involve the spiritual aspect of Christmas - the Community Advent Breakfast – must be handled as a business venture; ordering  beeswax candles, Moravian Sugar Cake, booking speakers, and marketing this  47 year old tradition. Year after year since I’ve had this job, the warmth that I should feel during this holy season is delayed because of my role in making sure that Christmas happens in the Christmas City… and is paid for.

That ended this year. The Citizens Christmas City Committee – one of my committees - has been raising funds for the City of Bethlehem’s Christmas decorations since 1964 with the Christmas City Seal. Every year we mail out thousands of envelopes with a sheaf of stamp-like seals and hope that the residents of Bethlehem and the Lehigh Valley send us a donation. Every year these donations decrease. The population that donates to the Christmas City Seals is getting older and their income has been fixed for almost two decades. This year, because of staffing changes, I took on the task of opening these envelopes for the first time. What I thought was going to be a drudgery job turned into a joy. Hundreds of names that I have heard from my 53 years of growing up here kept coming before me: Petraglia, Meixel, Uhler, Buzzard, Kessler, Pongratz, Barnett, Ytsma and to my utter delight - my own mother - who has been donating to this committee for most of the last 48 years. There were a few checks for $100 or $25 but most of the checks were for $10 and some envelopes had just one dollar stuffed inside. I cannot begin to tell you the warmth and affection that I felt while opening every single one of these envelopes.

Vernon Melhado, the President of the Bethlehem Chamber of Commerce in 1937 said “Bethlehem didn’t create Christmas, Christmas created Bethlehem” referring to the Moravian’s christening of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania  in 1741. When “O Little Town of Bethlehem” is sung, it has a double meaning to all of us. With Bethlehem’s many churches, Vesper concerts and Christmas putzes, the spirit of Christmas is prevalent. I now know that this community is also invested in Bethlehem as the Christmas City. Christmas is in the hearts of its residents which is interwoven with their faith, their pride and sense of community.  I want to express my gratitude to everyone who contribute - day in and day out - to make Bethlehem, Pennsylvania a great place to work, live, raise a family…and celebrate this holiday. Merry Christmas, everyone!

Lynn Collins Cunningham, born and raised in Bethlehem, is the Vice President of Bethlehem for the Greater Lehigh Chamber of Commerce
Work Address: 561 Main St, Suite 200, Bethlehem, Pa 18018
Mobile Phone: 610-739-1510

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