The historic city of Bethlehem is well worth a visit if you are in the borough of Sellersville in Bucks County, Pennsylvania and is easily accessible by car from other parts of the state. This is situated in the heart of the Lehigh Valley region and is the seventh largest city in Pennsylvania. It is also one of the oldest in the area having been established by colonial settlers on Christmas Eve back in 1791 however it was home to a number of indigenous people for hundreds of years before that. The discovery of what would become this thriving city was made by a small group of Moravians who came to the area to set up missionary communities aimed at converting the Native Americans and non-church going German-speaking Christians in the region. In this vain, they named the settlement Bethlehem in honor of Jesus birthplace Judea and every year a star is lit in the town center on the spot where the first building was constructed.
This tradition attracts visitors from all over the state during the festive season as part of the town’s annual Christmas lights display and this particular ceremony has been regularly conducted outside the Hotel Bethlehem since the 1930’s with the exception of the years 1941 to 1945. This was during the Second World War when none of the city’s Christmas lights were lit at all in honor of those soldiers fighting for their country overseas and also because it was deemed to be a prime target to attract an air raid. Prior to this, a grand ceremony took place at the beginning of December each year since the Great Depression in 1937 which saw a local dignitary pull a large switch to turn on the street lights, that included the highlight of the display, a large wooden star. Hundreds of residents would turn out every year while thousands more across the region would listen to the speeches and musical performances on the radio so it was not surprising that Bethlehem soon developed the nickname of “Christmas City, USA”. The original star was created with four wooden planks, overlapping to create an eight-point star which was 60 feet high by 51 feet wide, mounted on two wooden poles, then lit by 150 50-watt light bulbs however this was replaced by a steel version a few years later. This star was made using Bethlehem steel at a cost of $5,000 and had eight rays, with the main horizontal one standing 81 feet wide and its main vertical ray at 53 feet high. By the late 1960’s the star stood at 91 feet high after it was installed on an old steel frame and set in a concrete base that was 25 feet wide and 5 feet deep. N more recent times, Plexiglas was installed to protect the 250 50-watt light bulbs and a crew of municipal electricians change these bulbs every two years to ensure the star stays lit from 4.30 p.m. until midnight throughout the festive period.
Bethlehem is also home to several historical landmarks and architectural buildings including what is now the Lehigh Valley University which was founded in 1865. However its Moravian College in the city center is even older and is the sixth oldest collect in the U.S.A having been established way back in 1742.