Iconic festival born one Peep at a time
Peepsfest, the family friendly New Year’s celebration in Bethlehem, has become as iconic as the yellow marshmallow chick it commemorates. The 2018 Peepsfest marked the 10th anniversary of the popular two-day event that partners ArtsQuest, Just Born Quality Confections and PBS39. It was also the 65th year since Just Born acquired its marshmallow chick line from the Rodda Candy Company of Lancaster.
Just Born replaced Rodda’s time-consuming process of hand forming the chicks to mass producing them. The innovation made Just Born the largest marshmallow candy maker in the world and helped popularize the original yellow Peep.
Three years before the opening of SteelStacks, ArtsQuest joined with Just Born to create an event around New Year’s that could include children. Today, attendance has doubled and families come from all over the country to join in the fun and welcome the New Year.
At the ArtsQuest Center at SteelStacks, all three floors were crowded both pre-New Year’s days with kids and their parents listening to music, watching magic shows, playing games and creating their own keepsakes to take home. There was face painting, balloon art and, of course, lots of free samples of Peeps.
Next door, more than 2,000 people visited the PBS39 Public Media and Education Center, according to Public Relations/Promotions Director Nicole Harrell. They stopped by the PPL Media Center, visited the Peeps Scholastic Diorama Competition to vote for their favorite Peeps-themed entry and attended the debut of the Peeps in the Kitchen cooking demonstrations.
ArtsQuest Executive Chef Barry Sullivan demonstrated how to make his version of s’mores, featuring marshmallow Peeps melted in an iron skillet over the top of chocolate chips and served with a graham cracker wedge. Long lines of children and adult kids waited to get samples of the s’mores, and no one seemed to be bothered that the poor Peeps ended up melting in a hot oven.
At the diorama competition featured 120 entries – an all-time high, Harrell said. Just Born donated Peeps and other materials to local schools to help the students create their entries in age categories from elementary through high school. Winners were selected by the judges on the basis of the theme, how well the Peeps were displayed, quality of construction and Peepsonality.
The public also got to vote for its favorite dioramas. The top pick of both the judges and the public was “The 12 Days of Christmas,” featuring Peeps playing all the parts mentioned in the song, including a “Peep in a Pear Tree” and “Four Calling Bids” with Peeps using a pay phone. The winning entry and was a collaborative effort by Liberty HS students Evelyn McRoyle, Maggie Yurchishin and Barbara Yurchishin.
Despite cold temperatures and rain on New Year’s Eve, hundreds of families still stayed to ring in the New Year a few hours early with the Peeps chick drop and fireworks. Borrowing from the ball drop in Times Square in New York that counts down to midnight on New Year’s Eve, a 400-pound fiberglass Peep “dropped” on a cable at the Levitt Pavilion on the SteelStacks campus. Then the sky lit up with fireworks.
According to officials, the chick drop has helped Peepsfest garner more media attention than either of ArtsQuest’s other two main attractions, Musikfest or Christkindlmarkt. The world is watching.