They call this little town of Bethlehem "Christmas Town", and with good reason. The annual Christmas Town Festival, scheduled for December 3 and 4, celebrates its 30th birthday this year as one of New England's favorite celebrations. Thousands travel to this small village in the Litchfield Hills every year to mail holiday cards with a special Bethlehem greeting. The town's historic Bellamy-Ferriday House opens to visitors for the occasion, and Bethlehem boasts a rare Christmas jewel, a museum-quality 18th century crèche on view in a vintage barn at the Abbey of Regina Laudis
30th Anniversary Celebration
This year's special birthday celebration starts on Friday night at 6 p.m. when Santa turns on the lights on the towering 75-foot tree on the village green, with festive background music by the Region 14 choirs and bands, talented local groups. On Saturday, the gaily- decorated quaint buildings around the green will brim with over 70 art and craft exhibitors and there will be good food galore. Strolling carolers and musicians from the First Church Bell Choir will keep things lively, hayrides will be offered in front of First Church and Santa will be waiting at the firehouse to pose for pictures with young friends. Collectors can garner this year's unique annual Christmas Town pewter ornament, sold only during the Festival.
The Bethlehem post office will open for special hours during the festival, Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 4 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. He designed a "cachet," a special rubber stamp featuring a tree and lettering that said "From the Little Town of Bethlehem, Christmas greetings." New cachets have been added each year since. More than 60 are now available and over 200,000 cards are now mailed each year from this small town post office.
Historic Home Tours
Bethlehem's beautiful eighteenth century Bellamy-Ferriday House & Garden also will open on Saturday, lavishly decorated for the holidays. Guides will be on hand to give tours and the family-friendly program will include games, prizes and surprises for children. Special entertainment is planned by The Sweetest Key, an all-female a cappella group, with a concert at noon and caroling from 1 to 2 pm. Refreshments and hot cider will be offered in the Visitor's Center.
Another eighteenth century treasure is the crèche housed in a barn on the 400-acre property of the Abbey of Regina Laudis. The recently restored Neapolitan crèche is similar to the famous crèche in New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art and came from the same donor, Loretta Hines Howard. It is a remarkable creation containing 68 figures 14 to 16 inches high dressed in their original elaborate costumes. Along with the Holy Family, the figures vividly portray children, women bearing gifts, merchants, peddlers, angels, the Three Kings, and peasants with their farm animals. The Crèche is thought to have belonged to Victor Amadeus the Second, King of Sardinia, and is believed to have been presented to him on the occasion of his coronation in 1720. It is open free to visitors daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The Christmas Town Festival will be held at the junction of Rte. 61 and Rte. 132 in Bethlehem on Friday, December 3rd from 5 to10 p.m., and Saturday. Dec. 4th, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Free parking is available at the Bethlehem Fairgrounds on Route 61, where free shuttle buses will take visitors to and from the Festival. For additional information, see www.christmastownfestival.com or phone (203) 266-5557.
For more information about holiday events in the region and a free copy of UNWIND, a 112-page color guide to lodging, dining and all the attractions in the Litchfield Hills, contact the Western Connecticut Visitors Bureau, PO Box 968, Litchfield, CT 06759, (860) 567-4506, www.visitwesternct.com.