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Holidays In Philadelphia Mean New Celebrations & Can't-Miss Classics
The Mummers Add A New Division To Their New Year’s Day Parade
The holidays are all about tradition, especially in Philadelphia where each year generations of visitors gather at Macy’s for the Christmas Light Show, snap memory-making photos of Longwood Gardens’ elaborate displays and oooh-and-aaaah at the SugarHouse New Year’s Eve Fireworks on the Waterfront, which will be displayed on screens around town at midnight. This year, the Mummers Parade, Philadelphia’s oldest and proudly quirkiest New Year’s Day tradition, gets a new look with the addition of a new division—the first since 2008. Joining the Comic, Fancy, Wench, String Band and Fancy Brigades on the march along Broad Street will be the Philadelphia division, which includes marchers from the city’s numerous LGBT, ethnic and immigrant groups.
Here’s a look at the many holiday happenings taking place in Philly this year:
Lovely Lights, Jaw-Dropping Displays & High-Tech Shows:
- The holiday magic at Ben Franklin’s namesake park comes in the form of the Franklin Square Holiday Festival featuring Electrical Spectacle: A Holiday Light Show. The show runs every 30 minutes between 4:30 and 8 p.m., weather permitting, and showcases a giant lighted kite and 50,000 lights choreographed to holiday music. Other festivities include visits from Santa, rides on the holiday train and carousel, seasonal treats at Ben’s Bites & Brews and even mini-golf with warming stations. November 12-December 31 (except Thanksgiving and Christmas). 6th & Race Streets, historicphiladelphia.org
- Peddler’s Village throws the switch on the holidays as tens of thousands of lights glimmer during the Grand Illumination Celebration on November 20. Then throughout the holiday shopping season, visitors can check out the annual Gingerbread Competition & Display. Participants compete in a variety of categories, including traditional and authentic reproductions of significant buildings. During the season, visitors also enjoy free weekend activities, including visits with Santa at Giggleberry Fair and other special events. November 20-January 2. Routes 202 & 263, Lahaska, (215) 794-4000, peddlersvillage.com
- At the top of the hour, visitors gather in front of the Comcast Experience video wall, one of the world’s highest resolution LED displays, to catch the magic of The Comcast Holiday Spectacular. Throughout the free 15-minute show, dancers from the Pennsylvania Ballet move to music from The Nutcracker, a magical sleigh floats over the Philadelphia countryside and actors from the historic Walnut Street Theatre perform—all to a seasonal soundtrack presented by a 64-piece orchestra. Daily, 10 a.m-8 p.m. (except 5 p.m. on weekdays). November 24-January 3. 17th Street & John F. Kennedy Boulevard, visitphilly.com
- The holidays go red, white and green at Longwood Gardens during A Longwood Gardens Christmas, featuring 500,000 twinkling lights, colorful fountains and beautifully adorned trees. November 26-January 10. 1001 Longwood Road, Kennett Square, (610) 388-1000, longwoodgardens.org
- A Philadelphia tradition since 1956, the Christmas Light Show at Macy’s in Center City illuminates a large wall inside the Wanamaker building, a National Historic Landmark. People of all ages delight in the 100,000 LED lights, narration by Julie Andrews and sounds from the Wanamaker Organ. Performances take place every two hours. November 27-December 31. 1300 Market Street, (215) 241-9000, wanamakerorgan.com
- Set amid the evergreens, Morris Arboretum’s Holiday Garden Railway showcases a miniature winter wonderland complete with a quarter-mile of model-train track, seven loops and tunnels, 15 rail lines and model trains that cruise past scaled replicas of historic monuments and Philadelphia landmarks adorned with thousands of twinkling lights. New this year: Friday Night Lights, providing evening viewings on select nights; advanced tickets required. November 27-January 3. 100 E. Northwestern Avenue, (215) 247-5777, morrisarboretum.org
- The Independence Seaport Museum’s Parade of Lights stars working vessels decked out in holiday style. Indoors, participants visit with Santa and join in holiday activities and programs before moving outside to watch lighted and decorated tugboats and other vessels float along the Delaware River. December 12. 211 S. Columbus Boulevard, (215) 413-8655, phillyseaport.org
Animal Antics & Festival Fun:
- Come December, Linvilla Orchards’ Christmasland glimmers with seasonal delights. The farm displays animals, while the market section is stocked with holiday delights and crafts for youngsters. December 1-24. Santa pops in every Saturday and Sunday, and on select afternoons, visitors can sing along during Caroling Hayrides (December 5, 12 and 19), roast marshmallows and sip apple cider. 137 W. Knowlton Road, Media, (610) 876-7116, linvilla.com
- Thousands of twinkling lights, glowing trees, gently falling snow, larger-than-life decorations
and appearances by Scuba Santa®, Bumble the Abominable Snow Monster and Rudolph put all 8,500 sea creatures and the curious folks who visit them in a festive mood during the Adventure Aquarium Christmas Celebration. December 4-31. 1 Riverside Drive, Camden, NJ, (856) 265-3300, adventureaquarium.com
- Lighting up a winter night, the Firebird Festival in Phoenixville celebrates the phoenix. After a full day of music, dancing, storytelling, crafting, parades and other arts-related activities, the festival culminates at Friendship Field with the lighting of a wooden phoenix that turns it into a real firebird bonfire. December 5. 203 Fillmore Street, Phoenixville, firebirdfestival.com
- What’s the season like for animals in the rainforest, in the outback and on the farm? For three weekends, the Philadelphia Zoo hosts Zoo Noël, showcasing life-size renditions of Mr. Claus as he explores his role in animal habitats around the globe. Guests warm up at the holiday hot chocolate bar, browse the Little Elves’ Gift Shop, meet Santa in the Treehouse and watch as the big man feeds some favorite zoo animals. December 5-6, 12-13, 19-20. 3400 W. Girard Avenue, (215) 243-1100, philadelphiazoo.org
A Historic Twist:
- A little history, a little beer and a lot of fun are served up when one of Historic Philadelphia’s Red Coat soldier recalls life in British-occupied Philadelphia in 1777 while guiding the over-21 crowd through four cozy pubs during the winter-themed Tippler’s Tour called Yuletide Cheers & Beers. Thursdays, November 12-December 17. Independence Visitor Center, 6th & Market Streets, (800) 537-7676, historicphiladelphia.org
- During regular hours, visitors to historic Pennypacker Mills enjoy guided tours of the richly decorated mansion. November 24-January 10. In addition, on December 12, the house celebrates its vintage roots during the Victorian Christmas Open House. 5 Haldeman Road, Schwenksville, (610) 287-9349, montcopa.org/pennypackermills
- A Brandywine Christmas takes over the Brandywine River Museum of Art with one of the largest O-gauge model railroad displays in the country, a Victorian dollhouse, rare antique dolls and thousands of Critter ornaments made from natural materials on trees throughout the museum. November 27-January 3. 1 Hoffman’s Mill Road, Chadds Ford, (610) 388-2700, brandywinemuseum.org
- At Pottsgrove Manor, visitors join guided Twelfth Night Tours to experience the historic mansion dressed in its traditional English holiday best. November 27-January 10. During a special one-night event on December 13, guests tour the manor by candlelight while 18th-century residents mark the Twelfth Night with music and dancing in the parlor. 100 W. King Street, Pottstown, (610) 326-4014, montcopa.org/pottsgrovemanor
- The Fairmount Park Holiday Tours offer a glimpse into the elegant celebrations of 18th-century Philadelphia society as six of the historic mansions are decked out in holiday style. From December 3-20, visitors can embark on their own for tours of Cedar Grove, Mount Pleasant, Laurel Hill, Lemon Hill, Strawberry Mansion and Woodford Mansion. On other days, they can board a trolley for self-guided and guided tours of select houses. parkcharms.com
- History buffs get into the spirit of the season when they witness Washington Crossing the Delaware River, a re-enactment staged at Washington Crossing Historic Park. Two days of family-friendly colonial games, crafts and other activities accompany the re-enactments. December 13 and December 25. Routes 32 & 532, (215) 493-4076, washingtoncrossingpark.org
- At the National Constitution Center, aspiring colonial soldiers can join in the Military Musters, meet Revolutionary War heroes and discover how they would have fared in Washington’s army on that famous December 1776 journey across the Delaware River. Visitors can also check out the latest in 18th-century fashions during a Colonial fashion show and play traditional Colonial games. December 26-31. 525 Arch Street, (215) 409-6600, constitutioncenter.org
- The German Christmas Market at Byers’ Choice boasts plenty of gifts for holiday shoppers (think gingerbread houses, advent calendars, handcrafted Caroler® figurines and toys). November 1-December 31. 4355 County Line Road, Chalfont, (215) 822-6700, byerschoice.com
- With its medieval-village type setting, Philadelphia’s German-style Christmas Village has become a favorite tradition. Here shoppers find popular Christmas gifts from Germany, including glass ornaments, music boxes, nutcrackers and more while vendors serve up hot mulled wine, gingerbread and bratwursts to keep shoppers warm and satisfied. November 21-December 27. 1500 Arch Street, philachristmas.com
- New this year, the Made in Philadelphia Holiday Market showcases the work of local artists, crafters, confectionaries and designers. Shoppers can purchase goods from local artists like Philly Word Art, designers like Beaucycled and Saffron Creations and crafters like soap maker Mahogany Essentials and Candlemaker Accent Aroma. Also available: Philly foods galore in the form of macaroons and cannolis from T Bake Shoppe, gourmet chocolates from Tradestone Confections, flavored kettle corn from Philly Pop Kettle Corn and other favorites. November 21-December 27. 1 S. 15th Street, dilworthpark.org
Season Of Shows:
- The Walnut Street Theatre invites audiences to join in the laughter when the Tony Award-nominated Broadway hit A Christmas Story, The Musical makes its Philadelphia debut. Fans of Ralphie and his lovably oddball family will howl with glee when the oversized pink bunny pajamas, the longed-for Red Ryder BB gun, the “fra-gee-lee” kooky leg lamp, the world’s crankiest Santa and other icons turn up in this song-and-dance version of the quirky holiday classic film. November 10-January 10. 825 Walnut Street, (215) 574-3550, walnutstreettheatre.org
- The furry friends at Sesame Place spread holiday cheer during A Very Furry Christmas. With twinkling lights glittering throughout the park, young fans and their families can catch the holiday spirit at Santa’s Furry Workshop, during special Christmas shows, on new rides and during the new Neighborhood Street Party Christmas Parade. November 21-December 31. 100 Sesame Road, Langhorne, (866) GO-4-ELMO, sesameplace.com
- The Rock School for Dance Education, one of the nation’s most renowned pre-professional ballet training programs, puts a Colonial spin on a holiday classic with its production of Nutcracker 1776. November 27-28. Merriam Theater, 250 S. Broad Street, (215) 893-1999, kimmelcenter.org
- There’s a special ring in the air when the Impulse Handbell Ensemble, a professional youth group, joins the 120-voice Philadelphia Gay Men’s Chorus in the Bells, Brass & The Boys holiday concert. December 3-5. Lutheran Church of the Holy Communion, 2110 Chestnut Street, (215) 731-9230, pgmc.org
- The Philadelphia Orchestra hits the right note for the holidays with a jam-packed calendar of special performances at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts. Guests sing along to seasonal favorites during the Christmas Kids Spectacular (December 5), featuring an appearance by Santa Claus. And Messiah (December 11-13) and The Glorious Sound of Christmas (December 17-20) are longstanding holiday traditions for music lovers. Another favorite: ringing in January 1 during the New Year’s Eve Concert. Broad & Spruce Streets, (215) 790-5800, kimmelcenter.org; (215) 893-1999, philorch.org
- A beloved tradition, the Pennsylvania Ballet presents George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker™ at the Academy of Music. Audiences follow Marie and her prince through a glistening snowy forest into the land of the Sugarplum Fairy, all while enjoying the sounds of the Philadelphia Boys Choir. December 11-31. Broad & Locust Streets, (215) 893-1999, paballet.org
Other Seasonal Celebrations:
- During the Penn Museum’s free annual Peace Around the World, visitors follow an itinerary that leads them through the galleries as speakers share holiday traditions of their home countries. The day includes international music and dancing, children’s choirs, exotic face painting, balloon art and treats. December 5. 3260 South Street, (215) 898-4000, penn.museum
- The holiday spirit goes beyond Christmas at the National Museum of American Jewish History, which presents Being __________at Christmas. The event invites families from every background to join in a day of music, games, dancing, children’s activities and crafts with The Clay Studio. December 25. 101 S. Independence Mall East, (215) 923-3811, nmajh.org
- The African American Museum in Philadelphia hosts a family-friendly Kwanzaa Celebration, with a candle-lighting ceremony, storytelling, music, crafts and other activities. People are encouraged to bring a canned good donation for Philabundance. December 26-27. 701 Arch Street, (215) 574-0380, aampmuseum.org
Ring In The New Year:
- Revelers with early bedtimes can party at Franklin Square’s Kids’ New Year’s Eve Countdown, featuring a 6 p.m. “square” drop, a dance party in the pavilion and a great view of the early fireworks show at Penn’s Landing. While there, partygoers can catch the Franklin-inspired Electrical Spectacle light show (see above description). December 31. 6th & Race Streets, (215) 629-4026, historicphiladelphia.org
- Maritime merriment abounds on New Year’s Eve when the Independence Seaport Museum stays open late for the Annual Family Fireworks Viewing Party (4-7 p.m.) on the museum’s second-floor balcony. A sparkling cider toast and panoramic views of fireworks make it a festive, family-friendly affair. December 31. 211 S. Columbus Boulevard, (215) 413-8655, phillyseaport.org
- Penn’s Landing is the place to ring in the New Year. The SugarHouse New Year’s Eve Fireworks on the Waterfront light up the sky over the Delaware River two times—at 6 p.m. and again at midnight. Folks can lace up their ice skates for the Holiday Party on Ice at the Blue Cross RiverRink Winterfest, featuring entertainment, party favors and great views. And the festivities inside the Winterfest tent add a cozy touch to the holiday celebration. Those who can’t make it to the waterfront can see the fireworks projected on screens around town—think the Lit Brothers building and Commerce Square—at midnight. December 31. Columbus Boulevard at Market Street, (215) 925-RINK, delawareriverevents.com
- The Mummers Parade, the only-in-Philly tradition that dates back to 1901, is welcoming a whole new group of marchers to join them as they ring in the New Year. All the feathers, sequins, music and merriment that mark the festivities will still be on display, but now, in addition to the Comics, Wenches, Fancies, Fancy Brigades and String Bands, fans can cheer on the all-new Philadelphia Division with costumed participants representing the city’s many diverse cultures and ethnic groups. The String Bands will line up on Benjamin Franklin Parkway between 16th and 18th streets; the other divisions will line up on John F. Kennedy Boulevard between 16th and 22nd streets. After the judging at City Hall, the groups leave their props behind and get down to some serious performing for the crowds as they head to Broad Street and march south to Washington Avenue. Revelers should arrive early for the best views along the parade route, but to catch the action from the judge’s stand, it’s best to purchase tickets ahead of time. Spectators can get even more Mummers glitz at the Fancy Brigade Finale competition at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, where clubs perform their Broadway-style music-and-dance routines for prizes and bragging rights. Tickets for parade bleacher seating at City Hall and for the Fancy Brigades are both available at the Independence Visitor Center, 6th & Market Streets,
(215) 965-7676, phlvisitorcenter.com; tickets for the competition at the Convention Center are also available at (800) 298-4200, comcasttix.com
VISIT PHILADELPHIA® makes Philadelphia and The Countryside® a premier destination through marketing and image building that increases the number of visitors, the number of nights they stay and the number of things they do in the five-county area.
On Greater Philadelphia’s official visitor website and blog, visitphilly.com and uwishunu.com, visitors can explore things to do, upcoming events, themed itineraries and hotel packages. Compelling photography and videos, interactive maps and detailed visitor information make the sites effective trip-planning tools. Along with Visit Philly social media channels, the online platforms communicate directly with consumers. Travelers can also call and stop into the Independence Visitor Center for additional information and tickets.
- Donna Schorr, (215) 599-0782
Story Starters: Holiday Happenings In Philadelphia
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Benjamin Franklin Parkway:
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Quirky Events In Philadelphia
In the 19th and 20th centuries, Philadelphia gained an international reputation for being a pretty quirky place, thanks to an underdog championship boxer movie character, dueling cheesesteak purveyors, the Mummers and, well, a cracked Bell. It seems the 21st century will continue to propagate that fun-loving mystique with strange and wonderful annual events held every month of the year. Here’s a look at the city’s quirky side:
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