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19 spectacular things to do in Philadelphia Christmas weekend

Josh Middleton

If you have guests visiting this weekend, you’ll have no shortage of ways to entertain them. Below, we list a host of events to keep you and yours busy during the final few days before Christmas. Wow them at major holiday attractions like Christmas Village (which closes on Dec 24), the time-honored Macy’s Light Show or Blue Cross RiverRink Winterfest. Take them dancing at Riot Nerd’s Nightmare Before Christmas Dance Party at the Barbary Saturday night, or have them tapping their toes at an irreverent Winter Solstice spectacular featuring the vocal stylings of Philly’s tallest, hairiest drag queen. On Christmas Eve, the Moo Shu Jew Show returns to Chinatown with a spread of delicious Chinese food and standup comedy on the menu. To top it off, cruise down 13th Street in South Philly for one of the best displays of Christmas lights Philadelphia has to offer. Find all that and tons more below. Happy holidays!

Friday, December 22

Martha Graham Cracker at FringeArts

Photograph: Kevin Monko

Made in Philadelphia Holiday Market at Dilworth Park; 11am; pay as you go
Heads up last-minute shoppers: Load up with distinctive creations from area artisans, designers and confectioners in the shadow of City Hall. Find more great Christmas markets Philadelphia has to offer.

Christmas Village at LOVE Park; 11am; pay as you go
This weekend is your last chance to experience this German-inspired holiday market in Philadelphia’s LOVE Park. You’ll find plenty of reasons to prioritize a trip here—whether you want to shop for gifts in the cute little huts full of international and locally made wares, ogle at the thousands of holiday lights or get all nostalgic—and plastered—under the 40-foot Christmas tree with a cup of mulled wine in hand. It's also a charming spot to take family or friends who may be visiting for the holidays.

Blue Cross RiverRink Winterfest; 11am; pay as you go
Wassail on the waterfront at this urban wintertime retreat, or rent skates and hit the ice on their outdoor rink. RiverRink affords kids and adults the chance to kick their heels on the ice for a $3 admission fee, with a $10 skate-rental fee collected for those who don’t bring their own. The at-large Winterfest, meanwhile—an approximately two-acre campus encompassing an arcade, lodge and a Franklin Fountain–operated “Confectionary Cabin”—is a free space with plenty of pay-as-you-go indulgences. While the kids skate or push quarters in the arcade machines, adults can warm up by the fire pits with the Latin-inspired dishes of Garces, a basket of Chickie’s & Pete’s famous fries and their choices from a menu of craft beer.

Messiah with The Philadelphia Orchestra at the Kimmel Center; 7pm; $35–$120
The Philadelphia Symphonic Choir joins the Philadelphia Orchestra for an epic performance of Handel’s greatest hit.

Michael Blackson at Helium Comedy Club; 7:30 and 10pm; $35–$50
The “African King of Comedy” was born in Ghana and lives in L.A., but honed his comedy chops here in Philly. Catch him over four nights at Helium Comedy Club.

Martha Graham Cracker’s Choral Spectacular at FringeArts; 8pm; $30
Some of Philly‘s most talented musicians and singers hop on stage with Philly’s self-proclaimed tallest, hairiest drag queen for an evening of song and hilarious banter celebrating the Winter Solstice.

Saturday, December 23

The Nightmare Before Christmas Dance Party at the Barbary

Photograph: influence/Justin DiClemente

Liberty Flea at BOK; 10am; free
The Captain's Vintage gathers a host of local vintage purveyors in the gym of the BOK school. Expect good to run the range from clothing to jewelry to furniture and craft beer from Stickman Brews to accompany your hectic last-minute shopping excursion.

George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker at the Academy of Music; 11am and 3 and 7pm; $20–$109
What’s Christmas without Tchaikovsky’s glorious ballet? Many choreographers and companies have tackled it, but the grandest and most celebrated remains George Balanchine’s version, which he did for New York City Ballet. Our own Pennsylvania Ballet has many ties to Balanchine, and its version is terrific: Multiple dancers are featured during the run, but no matter which cast you get, you’ll see a fine performance.

Macy’s Christmas Light Show at Macy’s; starting at 10am; free
The giant singing, blinking, five-stories-tall display has been craning necks since 1956. So many Philadelphians smile remembering how their parents would drag them to the department store to sit on the floor and watch the time-honored story. More than 100,000 LED lights bring to life jolly figures like nutcrackers, clocks, elves and more. The shows happen every other hour from 10am to 8pm, but for the ultimate experience time your visit around noon. A bonus: Each show ends with music from the famous Wanamaker Grand Organ.

Build a Gingerbread House at Ritz-Carlton Philadelphia; 3pm; $79–$99
The Petite Ballroom in the Ritz-Carlton acts as a holiday stop throughout December, where families can build their own confectionary abodes with ice cream cones, gumdrops and other sweet building supplies. The events also feature light bites and drinks (including a sparkling wine for moms and dads), plus a visit from a certain rotund, jolly fellow in a red suit.

Franklin Square Holiday Festival and Electrical Spectacle; 4:30pm; pay as you go
Franklin Square spreads the holiday cheer with its annual celebration centered around its dazzling light show, Electrical Spectacle, which features more than 50,000 lights and a glowing kite that recalls Ben Franklin’s famous experiment that was supposedly performed there. Wintry comfort foods, the Winter Beer Garden—which is always stocked with seasonal beers and cider—and weekend visits from Santa round out the seasonal fun.

Wassailing Caroling Hayrides at Linvilla Orchards; 5pm; $5
Snuggle into your warmest winter getup and pile onto a wagon at Linvilla Orchards for this holiday hayride that lets you belt out seasonal carols into the chilly night air. Each ride is complemented with a steamy mug of hot apple cider and ends at an open fire, where you can roast some marshmallows before heading back to civilization. Other holiday activities at Linvilla include visits from Santa every Saturday and Sunday in December from 1 to 3pm and opportunities to cut your own Christmas tree through Dec 23 from 10am to 7pm.

Star Wars costume party at City Tap House; 5:30pm; $20
City Tap House in University City and Victory Brewing Company are teaming up for a Star Wars costume party that includes a screening of the film and a host of pre-show Star Wars-related activities—like a costume contest, photos with Darth Vader and a light saber demo and battle with Drexel University’s Dragon Jedi. The party ends with a 7:30pm screening of Star Wars: The Last Jedi at Cinemark University City Penn 6. More details here.

This Is the Week That Is at Plays & Players Theatre; 8pm; $28–$45
Can we laugh at politics? What choice do we have? For 12 years, TITWTI has been a holiday crowd-pleaser. And though details about the show are sketchy at press time (it capitalizes on up-to-the-minute topicality) you’re sure to be in good hands with the funny folks of 1812 Production’s ensemble—including company doyenne Jennifer Childs, whose character Patsy always brings down the house.

Nightmare Before Christmas Dance Party at the Barbary; 9pm; $5
Halloween and Christmas collide at this dance bash hosted by Philly event producers Riot Nerd. DJ Wassup Gina plays a set list of “creepy carols” while you dance your ass off—preferably in costume—and consume cocktails and beer that are on special.

Sunday, December 24

Christmas decorations at Longwood Gardens

Photograph: Harold A. Davis

A Longwood Christmas at Longwood Gardens; 9am; $23–$30
The 1,000-acre botanical garden in Kennett Square lights up for the holiday season with over 100 trees sparkling with a half-a-million lights. Fire pits fashioned by craftsmen and local artists will be kindled each night to keep visitors warm and toasty on the trail, but those needing a more substantial respite from the elements can step into the heated conservatory. There, Francophiles will be dazzled by an elaborately adorned table set with Versailles-inspired holiday decor, four acres of fragrant seasonal plants and a colossal fir bedecked with blue, copper and gilded ornaments.

Miracle on South 13th Street on S 13th Street; 5pm; free
Cruise down the 1600 block of 13th Street where every house, tree and telephone pole is strung up with lights in a dazzling display of community spirit. This a beloved local tradition that’s as South Philly as a Pat’s cheesesteak, but decidedly much better for you. Eager residents begin decking their halls months in advance of the light show’s late-November start date, and switch on the displays every evening until New Year’s Eve in Philadelphia.

Moo Shu Jew Show at Ocean Harbor; 6pm; $82–$92
This local first-day-of-Hanukkah tradition at a restaurant in the heart of Chinatown features a delicious multicourse (nonkosher) Chinese meal and performances by a trio of Jewish stand-up comedians, including Late Show with David Letterman favorite Moody McCarthy, former opener for Chelsea Handler Marla Schultz and actor Brad Zimmerman, whom you may remember as Johnny Sack’s lawyer on The Sopranos.

Last chance: A Christmas Carol at Hedgerow Theatre Company; 7:30pm; $20–$35
One reason to see this is, of course, the show—a family favorite that’s been a perennial hit for Hedgerow for two decades. But the other big selling point is the venue: You’d be hard-pressed to find a more charming theater than this tiny jewel-box space, brimming with history. An enchanting little garden is also on the property. If all of that isn’t a great way to jump-start your Christmas spirit, maybe nothing will.

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