Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Christmas In Bethlehem on the Lehigh II

When people think of Christmas here, they generally think of a Moravian Church Christmas. This represents the heritage and traditions of the small church whose members founded the City of Bethlehem in the 18th century. I don't know how much is old and how much is later, although the great Moravian music that is performed in the Christmas season certainly must be among the oldest elements of the holiday. When I think of a Moravian Christmas, I think of candlelight and choirs, and the famous Moravian trombone choir which--often playing from the belfry of Central Moravian Church--adding a special note of majesty to the occasion. And I think of joining the congregation in song as we all lift our beeswax candles high in the air at the end of the Moravian College Christmas Vespers... I was only there once, but I kept the stub of that candle for years.
But there were other Christmases to celebrate. This was especially true as "the Bethlehems", north and south, became a massive steelmaking center, with other significant industries thrown in. Immigrants poured in by the thousands, from many countries in Central and Eastern Europe and Central and South America. I have attended a beautiful Russian Orthodox service, with music for unaccompanied choir, and listened in on a joint holiday vespers sung by the choirs of the two Slovenian churches, Catholic and Protestant. The Spanish congregation of Holy Infancy annually staged Las Posadas, a Puerto Rican depiction of the Holy Family's search for shelter.
Christmas was an international holiday in Bethlehem in Bethlehem then, as I hope it is now. I do know that there is now an 11-year-old Luminaria night, which gives a bow to the simple outdoor holiday lighting of the American Southwest, and raises a lot of money for good causes. Luminarias are a Spanish-American tradition in the Southwest, but here they are for you to enjoy regardless of your ethnicity. Our Lady of Pompeii/Holy Rosary Catholic Church once staged an annual Christmas pageant in the middle of E. Fourth St. At a certain point--since E. Fourth St. was then a state highway--it was taken over by the City, moved, and --some say--gentrified. I have not heard of it lately, and am not sure it survives.

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