Hot Glass Is Cool

Hot Glass Is Cool

Playing with glass—hot as lava and pliable as taffy—to create Christmas ornaments is the coolest experience at the beloved holiday market Christkindlmarkt in Bethlehem. With a limited amount of chances to secure a 20-minute time slot, it’s also one of the hottest tickets this season. 

Tucked into Pavilion 4 at the back of Christkindlmarkt, the Banana Factory’s “baby” furnace roars along at 2100 degrees Fahrenheit. Inside is a blast of pure heat: molten, glowing yellow and orange. I’ve signed up my twin daughters Katie and Charlotte for ArtsQuest’s “Hot Glass Experience,” where they’ll make tree ornaments from glass. We’re glad for the heat on a cold Friday night.

“See the shadows?” asks Stephanie Hoff,  staring into the fiery abyss. Stephanie, a gaffer and glass artist at the Banana Factory’s glass studio, is showing Katie and Charlotte how to turn glass into art, step by step. It’s a delicate process, requiring skill, speed, and precision—the glass cools quickly, turning from liquid to solid in seconds. She carefully preps them.

“That’s the glass,” she says, dipping the tip of a five-foot steel rod  into the heat like a long Q-Tip, dabbing into the shadows and catching a bit of liquid glass on the end. She pulls the stick out, resting it inches away from the intense inner heat, allowing the glass cool for a second and slightly congeal. Stephanie turns the rod over to Charlotte, who goes first.

“Keep it turning,” Stephanie urges. Otherwise the shape will sag, pulled by gravity.

There’s quick work to be done.

Charlotte points the end of the stick with its glass coating into a bowl of white “frits”—tiny bits of glass used like dye to add color—on a nearby table. Instantly,  sparks fly as the heat ignites the wooden edge of the bowl.

“Keep it moving,” Stephanie says.

Charlotte pulls the blob out, the sparks disappear, and she rolls it, side to side, just as she’s been shown, squishing the white frits into the blob until they nearly disappear. Back into the furnace, another few dabs of liquid glass increase the size of the blob. Then it goes back into the frits, more white, and then a handful of red to create a spray of Dalmatian-style spots.

It’s a delicate process, requiring skill, speed, and precision–the glass cools quickly, turning from liquid to solid in seconds.

Next, Stephanie and fellow Banana Factory glass artist Michele Demichio show Charlotte and then Katie how to turn the solid glass blob into an air-filled, inflated ornament: First, they round the blob into an even sphere, Next, they  attach a hookah-like tube to the end of the long rod. Then Stephanie starts to blow into the mouthpiece. “I’ll get it started with a little bubble,” she says. “Then you’re going to blow. Gently, very gently. You don’t want it to explode.”

It’s Katie’s turn and she has chosen red and green speckles for her ornament. Her blob is round and ready. She takes the tube and holds it to her lips. Stephanie has created a tiny bubble inside and Katie now puffs on the end, remembering not to inhale the heat.

“Blow,” Stephanie instructs.

We’re all looking at the speckled glass. It’s growing.


It gets bigger, but just barely.

“Blow! Blow!”

I can feel a sudden urgency in the air. The glass is cooling, and fast. They’ve warned us: You need blow hard enough to inflate the glass, but not enough to make it explode.

Katie senses the urgency and she blows harder. The glass inflates, growing, getting rounder, turning into an ornament the size of a small grapefruit before our eyes. We all exhale.

Finally, Michele finishes the process, placing an extra dab of molten glass on the top, pulling it like a piece of taffy. Then a quick snip with shears creates a catch so that it can be hung on our tree. Satisfied with the catch, Michele picks the green and red orb up with an enormous pair of pliers so that it can set for 24 hours and be picked up the next day.

I fully expect Katie’s ornament to collapse like a piece of chewing gum in the jaws of the pliers.

But it doesn’t. It’s round and pretty, both fragile and strong. The heat has disappeared, and a beautiful work of art has been born in under half an hour.

More Details

Christkindlmarkt runs Thursdays-Sundays through December 23. Now celebrating its 25th year, Bethlehem’s heart-warming holiday market offers handmade works of more than 150 artisans, a dazzling array of delicious foods, ice carving demonstrations, and even visits from St. Nicholas. 

To sign up for the Hot Glass Experience, go to or call 610.332.1300.

The Hot Glass Experience costs $50. Working with a Banana Factory glass artist one-on-one, guests create a glass holiday ornament. The session takes 20 minutes and children (over age 6) are welcome.


711 E. First Street, Bethlehem, PA

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