2002 Winter Season
Litchfield, CT -- Contact: Janet L. Serra For Immediate Release 860-567-4506 email@example.com Connecticut's little town of Bethlehem, a quaint, quiet village in the Litchfield Hills, is transformed each December, when it becomes New England's favorite Christmas Town. Thousands of visitors arrive to mail their Christmas cards with a Bethlehem postmark, to enjoy the annual gala Christmas Town Festival, set this year for December 6 and 7, and to visit a rare museum-quality 18th century Neapolitan Créche. While having fun, visitors are also discovering a community with its own long and distinguished religious history as the site of America's first religious seminary and one of its most unusual monasteries. The annual Christmas festival, a tradition since 1981, features a Candle-light Procession and a re-enactment of Mary and Joseph looking for Shelter. Hayrides, caroling, madrigal and instrumental music add to the fun, while dozens of exhibitors in buildings on the village green offering a host of gift ideas, many of them one-of-a-kind hand-crafted items. Children's toys, dolls, doll houses, trains, original ornaments, hand-dipped candles, hand-blown and stained glass, hand-knitted scarves and mittens, ceramics, needlework, paintings, baskets and jewelry are among the offerings, along with herb wreaths, gingerbread houses and homemade candies and fudge. The festival takes place on Friday night from 5 to 10 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The idea of mailing cards from Bethlehem dates to 1938, when a local Postmaster, the late Earl Johnson, realized that people were coming to town just to mail their cards and designed a "cachet," a special rubber stamp with a tree and lettering that said "From the Little Town of Bethlehem, Christmas greetings." Each year since, new cachets are added. More than 60 are now available and over 200,000 cards are now mailed from this small town post office. A RARE RELIGIOUS HERITAGE Two of the festival events, an exhibit of Christmas traditions past and present and an ornament-making workshops for children, will take place at the Bellamy-Ferriday House and Garden, which goes back much further in the town's history. This is where Bethlehem's religious emphasis began. The first theological seminary in the country was conducted here by Joseph Bellamy, a pastor who resided in the house from 1739 to 1790. Doctor Bellamy, a distinguished author, preacher and teacher, took young men into his home while he grounded them in his brand of scriptural interpretation and preaching methods. Among future leaders who studied, there were Aaron Burr and Jonathan Edwards II. One of the structures on Dr. Bellamy's land, an 18th century barn, has been moved to the 400-acre property of the Abbey of Regina Laudis, where it holds another 18th century marvel, a museum-quality Neapolitan créche. The créche tells the nativity story in several scenes with hundreds of elaborate costumed, hand-carved figures with pliable bodies that can be bent to proper poses. The créche is open free to visitors daily through December from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The créche is one of many gifts that have come to this monastery for Benedictine nuns. It was founded in 1947 by two nuns who had fled from the Nazis and found shelter in a home in Bethlehem, Connecticut. Their Chapter House, begun in 1974 and built over the course of many years with the help of dedicated lay people is made of stones gathered from the land of the abbey. The order, which has grown to number 40, is dedicated to perpetual prayer, beginning in the stillness of night with Matins at 1:50 a.m. and gathering as a community seven times during the day to sing the psalms. They sing the Mass and Divine Office in Latin and retain the Gregorian Chant, which goes back to the origins of the first Christian communities and the earliest recorded Western music. The Abbey is another reason that Bethlehem richly deserves its title as Connecticut's Christmas town. For more information about Bethlehem, Woodbury and other Christmas events and to receive a free copy of UNWIND, a 40-page color guide to lodging and dining and other historic sites and regional attractions, write to the Litchfield Hills Visitors Bureau, P.O. Box 968, Litchfield, CT 06759, call (860) 567-4506 or visit their web site at www.litchfieldhills.com.