Monday, December 6, 2010

Christmas In Bethlehem on the Lehigh I

From my apartment window, I notice, I can now see the Star of Bethlehem, built decades ago of Bethlehem Steel girders and placed high atop South Mountain, above the home campus of Lehigh University. It's Advent, and that means the Christmas season in "our Bethlehem " is in full swing.
What does that mean? I'm not sure. Now that I have mobility problems, it's been years since I've been able to get involved in it, or in much of anything outside.
Tonight is the first time I have even been aware of the municipal Star in years. I have heard complaints about it from people I know. They think that, as a long-time activist and the founder of the South Bethlehem Historical Society I ought to be able to do something; but of course I can't. Not even if I had the capacity to sweep into the office of the Mayor of Bethlehem and pound on his desk would I be able to do something; and of course that capacity was never mine. (Much as I might sometimes have wanted it. ..)
The complaints have been that the Star is invisible; and that if you drive up you will find broken bulbs all over the place. I know nothing about the broken bulbs; until tonight I could not have said whether the Star was off or on. I don't know whether it IS on most of the time, although for some years it was on every day. It passed muster with the ACLU by being positioned as a symbol, not of a religion, but of a city.
When I first came here--back in the day, almost 40 years ago--the Star was only on during the Advent/Christmas season, beaming a welcome to the thousands of seasonal tourists the city had been attracting for years. I also know that sometimes, during Holy Week, the lights were turned on to form a Cross. I know, because I saw it while I was walking across the Hill to Hill Bridge. That was before the days of high-tech billboards to block part of the view of South Mountain.
That period-- of the Star at Christmas and the Cross during Holy Week--represent to me a time when Bethlehem was somewhat freer in religious expression than it seems to be now. There were also such things as outdoor Stations of the Cross, participants in costume, often designed to call attention to Jesus's sufferings as they are reflected in the suffering of today's poor.
I liked this feeling of the seriousness of faith in the city. It put me in mind of something the great Anglo-Irish dramatist George Bernard Shaw wrote about Ancient Rome--of a time when Rome was "...young, and knew its own mind, and had a mind to know."
The Star for years was at the center of Christmas lights tours, when buses of visitors were driven through brightly decorated streets and up South Mountain. There they stopped by the great structure to take in the overall view of the city in its holiday finery. With the current cost of electricity, these tours are most likely past their prime. If they are happening. I don't check the local web sites--City of Bethlehem, for instance--because there is next to no chance I will be able to attend anything. Thus, research would be a wasted effort.
Still, I advise readers to check them out, and to attend whatever they can. I am by no means "grinch-ish", and am leading a full and interesting life. And I'm sure there still is much to enjoy in a Bethlehem Christmas. Don't miss it.
In my next post I'll share some more personal Christmas memories and observations of this place.

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