STORY WRITTEN BY BRIAN BINGAMAN
@brianbingaman on Twitter
Through Dec. 27, Center City Philadelphia’s John F. Kennedy Plaza — known to most as LOVE Park — is The Christmas Village in Philadelphia, presented by NRG Home.
Now in its eighth season, the organizers of the traditional, open-air, German-style Christmas market are expecting to break last year’s attendance record of 600,000 visitors.
Admission is free — with pay-as-you-go food, drink and shopping — and among the many holiday sights and sounds are twinkling lights, the LOVE Park Christmas Tree, live music, children’s activities — including a kids zone on the weekends and photos with Santa Claus, and a paper ornament Wish Wall in conjunction with the Make-a-Wish Foundation.
New features this year include outdoor seating areas, Moravian Herrnhuter stars illuminating the park and the village’s wooden huts, a food and wine garden behind the Independence Visitors Center, and the re-location of Santa’s house to the middle of LOVE Park, by the fountain area.
Through Dec. 17, grab an $8 Chaddsford Winery Pairing Pass to get your “wine & cheese” fix on Tuesday evenings, or satisfy your sweet tooth with “Wine & Chocolate” Thursday evenings. You need to get those tickets in advance at the Chaddsford Winery booth at the Christmas Village in Philadelphia, or http://chaddsford-winery.ticketleap.com/christmas-village-tastings.
The Christmas Village in Philadelphia’s founder and president, Thomas Bauer, said that in Germany, it’s in a marketplace such as this where people go at the end of the work day to Christmas shop along with their co-workers. “We try to keep it as authentic as possible. It takes a lot of effort to not have 10 to 15 people selling hats and scarves,” he stated, mentioning vendors that sell wool products from Ireland, soaps from France, jewelry from Spain, ornaments from Ukraine, and babushka dolls from Russia, as well as toys, apparel, jewelry, decorations, home goods, artwork and more.
Germany’s Käthe Wohlfahrt has a tent with a dazzling selection of nutcrackers, music boxes, incense smokers, ornaments (including glass Christmas pickle ornaments — an amusing German custom) and other decorative pieces.
The Christmas Village in Philadelphia is something of a foodie destination, with places to warm up with a glass of warm mulled wine, or hot cocoa, while enjoying fare from bratwurst and schnitzel to potato pancakes, Belgian fries, decadent Belgian waffle desserts from the Walking Waffle, and a salami jerky known as landjager. Helmut’s Original Austrian Strudel offers meat puff pastries, in addition to the traditional sweet fruit strudels. Döner Kebab features meats shaved right off the rotisserie spit placed in a warm pita pocket with tomato, onion and homemade sauce. Lebkuchen and Stollen is where that gingerbread smell is coming from. They also sell crepes and other German sweets.
And food and drink always makes a good gift. Browse Phillies and Flyers wines, gourmet specialty pretzels and roasted nuts, Brun-uusto cheeses from Wisconsin, and even spreadable bacon preserves.
Note that some vendors only accept cash.
Right across the street in Dilworth Park, on South 15th Street on the west side of City Hall, is the Made in Philadelphia Holiday Market, where you can find even more artists, crafters, confectioners and designers, plus an ice skating rink.
Located between 15th and 16th streets and John F. Kennedy Boulevard and Arch Street, market hours are 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Christmas Eve, closed on Christmas Day. Get the complete vendor list and food and drink menus; plus information on theme weekends, promotions and the stage schedule at www.philachristmas.com.
Spread the cheer by following @philachristmas on Twitter and Instagram, liking Christmas Village on Facebook and tweeting @LOVE_Park.
To the north, Bethlehem’s 23rd annual Christkindlmarkt holiday festival is happening Dec. 11-13 and from Dec. 17-20 at PNC Plaza at SteelStacks, 645 E. First St., Bethlehem.
Also boasting old-world charm, Germanic heritage and Käthe Wohlfahrt merchandise, this Christmas City seasonal attraction features aisles of handmade works by more than 100 artisans, offering thousands of gift ideas like nutcrackers, ornaments, collectables, hand-painted chalkware figurines by Rich Connolly Folk Art and a new selection of Bethlehem Steel merchandise.
You can also enjoy live holiday music, ice sculpting demonstrations, make-your-own blown glass ornament sessions, jolly old St. Nicholas and more.
Hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursdays and Sundays, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturdays. Tickets are $9 for ages 13 and older, $5 for ages 6-12, free for ages 5 and under. For more information, visit www.christmascity.org.
Also, put on your Christmas sweater, throw on your boots and bring the children and grandchildren to SteelStacks, 1 Founders Way, Bethlehem, for “Breakfast with St. Nicholas” at 9 a.m. Dec. 12 and 19. Tickets are $16.95 for ages 11 and older, $13.95 for children 2-10 and $8.95 for babies under 2, and on sale at www.christmascity.org and (610) 332-3378. Breakfast features scrambled eggs, pancakes, sausage, bacon and more. Guests can commemorate the occasion by having a free 5×7 photo taken with St. Nick before participating in arts and crafts and enjoying a goodie bag filled with treats, including items from Just Born Quality Confections and Crayola. Cops N’ Kids will be at the event providing gently used children’s books and accepting donations of gently used books for future events. Following the breakfast, guests can also enjoy free admission to Christkindlmarkt.