The little town of Bethlehem certainly fulfills the promise of its “Connecticut’s Christmas Town” moniker with an iconic small-town holiday celebration and a post office that cheerfully postmarks and hand stamps hundreds of thousands of holiday cards. In Litchfield County, an hour west of Hartford, Bethlehem is a small town with a big Christmas spirit.
Here are all the reasons you’ll love a holiday visit to Bethlehem, Connecticut.
1. Postmark Your Holiday Cards From Bethlehem
Many families participate in the annual holiday tradition of sending Christmas cards — taking the perfect photo, choosing a great design, updating a mailing list, and wrestling with mail merge to print labels. These works of labor and love achieve the next level of cheer when their recipients notice a postmark from Bethlehem, the namesake of the town where Jesus was born. People come from all over the region — sometimes by the busload — to mail their Christmas cards here.
Since 1938, Bethlehem residents have also created a different holiday-themed stamp every year that can adorn your Christmas cards, too. You can choose from these 83 stamps, called cachets, to hand stamp your cards. This is another example of the above-and-beyond dedication of Bethlehem’s postal workers, who process nearly 200,000 pieces of mail between Thanksgiving and Christmas — a remarkable influx for a town of 3,400 residents.
Find more information on the Bethlehem post office, including hours, here.
2. Annual Bethlehem Christmas Town Festival
On the first Friday and Saturday in December, people from near and far gather on Bethlehem’s town green (at the junction of routes 61 and 132) for the annual Christmas Town Festival. Full of old-fashioned holiday fun like carol singing and photos with Santa, the free festival is centered around an 85-foot tree that Santa lights at dusk on opening night.
Kids will enjoy a hayride, scavenger hunt, and roving train ride and return home proud of crafts they made. Bethlehem is in a rural area so a Christmas Tractor Exhibition and Decorating Contest is a draw as are 70 food and craft vendors who fill bellies and stockings. This year, attendees enjoyed an illuminated fire truck parade, musical entertainment including a bell choir and a fife and drum band, and a 5K race.
The festival began in 1981 to raise funds to rebuild the town hall that had burned the previous year; the goal ever since has been to keep up with this community center’s operating costs and repairs.
Pro Tip: Due to expected crowds, fair attendees are requested to park at the town’s fair grounds and take a shuttle to the green. If you have mobility issues, inform a local official and they will be happy to accommodate you.
3. March Farm
Pick Your Perfect Christmas Tree
While in the holiday spirit, why not stop by a fourth-generation family-run farm in Bethlehem to choose the perfect tree for your home? March Farm is known for pick-your-own produce like cherries and apples, a corn maze, and kids’ classes that connect them to nature. In December, the focus turns to Christmas trees and wreaths — make your own using locally sourced greenery in classes offered in early December.
Don’t leave without stopping into the farm store, where the irresistible aroma of the famous apple pie might be too hard to resist. Among the goodies baked daily on site, the store also carries regional specialty items like jams, honey, and maple syrup.
4. Bethlehem Vineyard
Gift A Locally Produced Wine
Believe it or not, Connecticut produces wine, and even has a wine trail! Two holiday-themed wines at Bethlehem Vineyard are the Santa’s Helper Christmas Town Red, a smooth, fruity blend of cabernet and merlot grapes, and Holiday Cheer, a dry medium-bodied Zinfandel.
Swing by Bethlehem Vineyard for a tasting and to pick up some bottles to gift to friends and family.
5. The Abbey Of Regina Laudis
A town called Bethlehem is a fitting location for an abbey of cloistered Benedictine nuns, the Abbey of Regina Laudis. There are several remarkable things about the abbey, one of which is that it houses a rare and extraordinary Neapolitan crèche that was a coronation gift for the King of Sardinia in 1720. Its 68 figures range in size from 5 to 16 inches and it’s a sister to the one that is the centerpiece of holiday decorations at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Before the pandemic, the abbey would allow visitors to view the crèche. It has not yet reopened, but it is worth checking into for future visits.
6. Bellamy-Ferriday House & Garden
Another attraction in Bethlehem that is typically open during the holidays is the beautiful 18th-century Bellamy-Ferriday House & Garden at the north end of the green. The site of America’s first seminary, when it was the residence of Reverend Joseph Bellamy, it later became the home of philanthropist Caroline Ferriday, whose formal parterre gardens are celebrated and whose work assisting concentration camp survivors inspired the bestselling book Lilac Girls. Bellamy-Ferriday House & Garden is open May to October.
Spending the holidays in the area? Don’t miss 9 Ways To Treat Yourself In Beautiful West Hartford, Connecticut.