The New York Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, ice skating under the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center and New Years Eve in Times Square are some of America’s iconic holiday events. But what if you don’t want to fight the crowds, pay for an exorbitantly-priced hotel room or spend hours (and hours and hours) waiting in line to do these things?
Philadelphia to the rescue! Forget about those New York fantasies and head to the City of Brotherly Love for a festive holiday season.
One of the Philadelphia’s most popular seasonal traditions is the Macy’s holiday light show, which has been drawing crowds to the Broad Street Macy’s (formerly Wanamaker’s) since 1956. Lights illuminate a wall several stories high as an organ plays Christmas tunes and a narrator tells the tales of the Nutcracker, Frosty the Snowman, and other long-time favorites. Another tradition housed in Macy’s is Dickens Village, an enchanting exhibit that whisks you away to Christmas in London in the 1840s.
Longwood Gardens is another fantastic place to visit during the holiday season. From Thanksgiving to early January, the formal gardens transform into a winter wonderland that will awe visitors of any age. Longwood offers indoor and outdoor light festivals, ice skating shows, fountain displays, and even breakfast with Santa. Just be sure to book your tickets ahead of time.
If you or your children enjoy ballet, the Pennsylvania Ballet’s production of the Nutcracker at the Academy of Music is a must-see. Fantastic costumes and beautiful choreography bring Tchaikovsky’s enchanting music (played by the Philadelphia Orchestra) to life, making this one of the most critically acclaimed performances in the country.
If you need to get some Christmas shopping done, Walnut Street from Broad to 18th is the perfect venue. In the last decade, Walnut Street has become Philadelphia’s fashion row, with stores like Coach, Puma, Juicy Couture, and Lucky Brand Denim offering fine goods. Start at Broad and Market, where you can see the Christmas tree and Menorah in the middle of City Hall, as well as Macy’s festive window displays. Shop your way to Rittenhouse Square, where whimsical balls of light hang from tree branches. If you’re lucky enough to see the Square covered in snow, you’ll begin to understand why Philadelphians love their city.
Last but absolutely not least, you’ll never forget seeing the New Year’s Day Mummers’ Parade live. Mummers (masked and costumed merrymakers) and their friends generally begin celebrating (which often means drinking copious amounts of alcohol) on New Year’s Eve, and they don’t stop until the last Mummer has strutted his stuff down Broad Street late in the evening on New Year’s Day. The real party, though, happens on South Philly’s “Two Street” (2nd Street), where many of the string bands have their headquarters. You’ll need a few days to recover from this one!
[Photos: BarynardBBS and Abby Gordon]