It’s Christmastime in the city – the City of Brotherly Love, that is. The numerous holiday events in Philadelphia truly run the gamut, and each one is designed to set your holiday spirit aglow. Check out this list of holiday happenings, and come to Philly to make some Philadelphia holiday traditions of your own.
During the busy month of December, my family celebrates a holiday of our very own. It’s a floating holiday, scheduled around our demands, our meetings, our final exams. We call it “Ditch Day,” the day we ditch work, school and house responsibilities. Instead, we devote the day entirely to Christmas in the city – the city for us being Philadelphia.
The Kick Off of Holiday Events in Philadelphia
Yes, I know, a lot of places are getting a jump on the season. Holiday attractions are open before Thanksgiving. But for my family, the Christmas season doesn’t really kick off until the parade. Of course, I’m talking about the 6 ABC Dunkin Donuts Thanksgiving Day Parade! After all, this is the country’s oldest parade. And it’s the one that officially brings Santa Claus to town.
Join our NEW Facebook Community: Making Travel Easier. We promise to always tell you what we would tell our best friend -- what works for kids, what doesn’t and what you need to know before you go to have the Best. Family. Vacation. Ever. Our group of travel experts are ready to answer your travel questions!
Mail carriers and Boy Scouts will be on hand to collect the kids’ letters to St. Nick. They’ll also accept canned good donations for Philabundance, the city’s non-profit food bank. Grab a spot along the Ben Franklin Parkway to cheer with the Eagles cheerleaders; urge the balloon handlers to spin the Penguins of Madagascar, Daniel Tiger and other giant balloon characters; and wave to celebrities such as Lara Spenser from Good Morning America, Miss Pennsylvania and a slew of former American Idol contestants, including winner Ruben Studdard.
Philadelphia Holiday Traditions
Let the holiday events in Philadelphia begin! Although I may have to adjust to Christmas without snow (grrr that global warming!), I can’t imagine a Ditch Day without these family favorites:
The Wanamaker’s Christmas Light Show at Macy’s
Okay, technically this is now the Macy’s light show, as it is held in Macy’s Center City. But I’ll always remember my childhood days of meeting up with my family at the Wanamaker eagle on the ground floor of the most gorgeous department store I ever saw (and the oldest in the city) to watch the entire wall light up with twinkle lights. Julie Andrews narrated the traditional stories – Santa’s Workshop, the Nutcracker and others – while the Wanamaker Grand Court Organ filled the court with swells of holiday music. Times have changed, the store has changed hands and I have grown older, but the Christmas Light Show stays exactly the same as it was when I was a girl. I can’t imagine Christmas without it. November 24 – December 31
While waiting on the light show (which is performed every two hours daily), head to Macy’s 3rd floor to see the Charles Dickens classic A Christmas Carol come to life. This is a full-sized walk-through village that depicts the metamorphosis of Ebeneezer Scrooge from greedy miser to a generous benefactor full of Christmas spirit. Travel to 19th century London and travel the same streets that Tiny Tim struggled down. Meet the three ghosts who make all the difference, and feel Scrooge’s joy when his heart becomes filled with the Christmas spirit. November 24 – December 31
TravelingMom Tip: Lines get long here, and people have a tendency to rush through. Take your time to read each placard, and soak in the details of each scene. You’ll feel yourself filling up with the spirit, too!
The Comcast Holiday Spectacular
The lobby of the Comcast headquarters is usually full of people going to or from meetings, but it seems everyone stands still during the holiday season. That’s because Comcast Experience video wall fills with the sights of the holidays. Penguins and partridges to ballerinas and carolers dance across the wall to celebrate the holiday. During the 15 minute presentation, the wall morphs into a magical sleigh ride through Christmases as you remember them. And what can beat The Nutcracker danced on a super high resolution LED display screen? November 23-January 1
The Franklin Square Electrical Spectacle Holiday Light Show
This favorite playground/carousel park/mini golf site is transformed by 50,000 twinkling holiday lights which dance around an Square also hosts a winter beer garden and fire pits. New this year are the gourmet hot chocolate bar and the s’mores station at Ben’s Sweets and Treats. Lights November 9-December 31; beer garden and Sweets and Treats November 24 – March 4
Rothman Institute Ice Rink and Cabin at Dilworth Park
Right outside City Hall, Dilworth Park is transformed into a winter wonderland during the holiday season with the addition of an ice rink and cabin. Now in its fourth year, the Rothman Institute Ice Rink and Cabin have become beloved holiday traditions in Philadelphia. Lace up your skates and glide around the pop-up ice rink. Then warm up with the beverage of your choice in the heated cabin. Another must-see holiday favorite in Dilworth Park is the America’s Garden Capital Maze. Here, you’ll find festively decorated seasonal plants from historic landscapes and public gardens in the area. Also check out the “Made In Philadelphia” market and the new Deck the Hall light show. November 10 – February 25; City Hall Tree Lighting November 24, Light show every hour on the half hour until January 1.
Reading Terminal Market
Always the place of choice for a Ditch Day lunch (so much food! So many choices!), the Market also features a holiday train display from November 24 through December 31. It’s also a great place to buy unique local gifts for the nice on your gift list.
Other Holiday Happenings
Some of these are evolving into “can’t miss” holiday favorites. Others we hope to check out for the first time this year. All are great for catching the holiday spirit:
11/6-1/1 One Liberty Observation Deck – During A Very Philadelphia Holiday, the platform at the top is decorated to celebrate three of Philly’s favorite traditions. The Pennsylvania Ballet’s The Nutcracker, the neighborhood celebration The Miracle on 13th Street, and the Mummers Parade are featured.
11/17-1/6 Peddler’s Village – Santa and the Mrs. start the holiday sparkle by switching on the million lights at the Grand Illumination Celebration on November 17. Check out the annual Gingerbread Competition and Display through January 6. The Christmas Festival (12/2-3) features Victorian decorations and a pair of Santa parades.
11/23 – 1/7 Longwood Gardens – Holiday decorations transform the Conservatory during A Longwood Christmas. Outside, a half million twinkle lights sparkle through the trees, while the waters of the restored fountains dance merrily to the tunes of the season.
11/23 – 1/1 Museum of the American Revolution Illuminating Liberty – Historically inspired and brightly colored window scenes based on those by Revolutionary-era artist Charles Wilson Peale illuminated by candlelight. Best seen at night; museum admission is not required.
More Philly Favorites
11/23 – 12/24 LOVE Park – The Christmas Village in Philadelphia returns to JFK Plaza, with a preview weekend 11/18-19. Visit the wooden booths 80 local and international merchants as they sell their wares. You’ll find everything from handmade toys to warm woolen apparel and delicious holiday treats.
11/24-3/4 Blue Cross River Rink Winterfest – A Penns Landing ice skating rink, kids’ log arcade, storytelling Saturdays, and the 12 Days of Christmas movies 12/14-12/25. On 12/1, fireworks follow the tree lighting ceremony. You can also catch fireworks here on New Year’s Eve to welcome 2018.
12/27-12/30 African American Museum in Philadelphia Kwanzaa Celebration – Four days of family fun, focused on the First Fruits of the Harvest. Events include crafting activities and a candle-lighting ceremony.
One Day Only
12/2 – Deck the Alley at Elfreth’s Alley. 18th and 19th century homes on the country’s oldest continuously inhabited street are opened to the public during this festival, featuring carolers, Ben Franklin and a 19th century Santa Claus.
12/9 – Parade of Lights at Independence Seaport Museum. A day of crafts, like sailboat ornament making and gingerbread boat building, followed by an early evening boat parade.
12/9 – The Golden Age of Retail at the Philadelphia History Museum. An adult cocktail party and popup event, displaying classic department store artifacts from Philly favorites like Lit Brothers, Gimbels and John Wanamaker’s.
12/10 – Latkepalooza at The Gershman Y. An annual celebration of potato pancakes! Top Philly restaurants serve up a variety of latke, with local entertainment and hands-on activities. General admission tickets include a serving of one latke from every participating vendor.
12/25 – Being _______ at Christmas at the National Museum of American Jewish Heritage. Fill in your blank and come out for a day of storytelling, games, crafts, dancing and live music. A ticketed event from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Visiting other cities this holiday season?
Check out our other TravelingMom Holiday Event Guides:
If you’re headed to the Windy City, find out what’s going on in Chicago.