In 1981, Valarie Stetz and her family traveled to Europe. In Munich, Germany, they came upon a Christmas market – the first of many they’d see during their vacation.
“Despite the cold and snow, throngs of people were in attendance and the atmosphere was as festive as it could get,” Stetz says. “Families were in abundance and the children were wide-eyed at the lights and goodies available in the different stalls. People were smiling and laughing and you could feel joy in the air. It was a very uplifting experience. This atmosphere was present at every market in every city we visited, from Munich to Paris.”
According to Stetz, European Christmas markets are held “in almost every European city and are a major catalyst to tourism.” These markets have been taking place for hundreds of years; Dresden, Germany’s “Striezelmarkt,” for example, began in the year 1434.
“Obviously, there is mass appeal, in spite of the cold weather,” she says. “Four inches of snow didn't stop people in Munich from attending the market. It was almost standing room only, every day we were there.”
And while Stetz was there, she couldn’t help but think, “Why not bring it home?”
When she and her family returned to Johnstown, Stetz sent “rather substantial informational packets to all federal, state and local officials at the time, looking for some support.” It soon became clear, however, that she wasn’t going to receive the support she needed to bring a European-style market to Johnstown. It was “simply too massive of an undertaking to come to fruition at the time,” she says.
Almost 38 years later, Stetz’s dream of bringing an outdoor Christmas market to our city is happening, thanks to City of Johnstown employees who are, according to Stetz, “stepping up to the plate and giving it a try.”
One of those employees is Stetz’s daughter, Amber Berezansky (she serves as HR/insurance analyst). Berezansky is organizing the market alongside her co-worker, Economic Development Specialist Jacob Zerby. Together – and with help from a small Johnstown Christmas Market Committee – they’re trying to get local churches, restaurants and other businesses and organizations in and around Central Park to join them in any capacity they see fit.
The inaugural “The City of Johnstown Christmas Market” is scheduled for Dec. 6 through 8 in Central Park. Hours are 2 to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.
“Though the city has taken the lead in the organization of the market, several community organizations are participating in the planning process,” Zerby says.
In particular, organizers are collaborating with Discover Downtown Johnstown Partnership (DDJP), a non-profit organization dedicated to attracting people to downtown Johnstown. DDJP presents “Hometown Christmas in Central Park,” which includes an annual Christmas parade and “Light-Up Night.” The non-profit is also responsible for Central Park’s popular Christmas tree, covered from top to bottom in animated lights set to holiday music.
“DDJP is already bringing people to the park to see their Christmas tree, and they’ve been gracious enough to allow us to be set up around the park, and to coordinate with their schedule of events so that what we’re doing doesn’t interfere with what they’re doing,” Zerby says.
Other collaborators include representatives from Cambria Regional Chamber and Johnstown Redevelopment Authority.
Local food and craft vendors have signed up to participate, but organizers are actively looking to secure even more. They will be accepting vendor applications until the day of the event. To learn more about becoming a food or craft vendor at “The City of Johnstown Christmas Market,” email Zerby at email@example.com or call him at (814) 533-2049.
Those who attend the market can shop for holiday gifts (vendors will be selling items such as meat and cheeses, makeup, wreaths, pet supplies and more). Children can make crafts and participate in age-appropriate activities.
Local high school students are encouraged to submit to the “Christmas Royal” essay contest; the topic is “My Favorite Johnstown Christmas Memory.” The essay winner will become the market “ambassador.” The essay contest is being planned exclusively by the Johnstown Christmas Market Committee and is being coordinated by Stetz, a committee member. Information has been distributed accordingly, but any local teachers who may not have received information about the contest can email Stetz at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Discover Downtown’s Christmas tree has been such a positive attraction for our area,” Berezansky says. “We feel that this market will give people another fun event to enjoy. The ultimate goal is to make downtown Johnstown a fun place to go during the Christmas season.”
Zerby adds, “We also view this as a way to lift everyone’s spirts and to add even more vibrancy to Johnstown. We might be a small city, but there’s a lot of life here.”
Berezansky and Zerby would love to see “The City of Johnstown Christmas Market” become a new holiday tradition.
“Though we are starting out small, we have an eye toward the future,” Zerby says.
When Stetz heard that her daughter and Zerby were working on “The City of Johnstown Christmas Market,” she says her first thought was, “Finally!”
“Christmas is a magical time,” Stetz says. “In this day and age, when we are bombarded by problems and tragedies throughout the world, we all need a little bit of that Christmas magic. That magic gives us peace, gives us hope and gives us joy. So, we hope everyone will come to the Christmas Market to experience the good things that are still in abundance in our world.”