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21 fun things to do in Philadelphia this weekend

By
Josh Middleton
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The last full weekend before Christmas—and the first of Hanukkah—brings all kinds of ways to celebrate. Shoppers will be happy to know that at least two new Christmas markets in Philadelphia are opening this weekend, the Greensgrow Holiday Bazaar and the Mt Airy Art Garage Holiday Market. If you’re looking to get into something naughtier, check out irreverent late-night cabaret Get Pegged at FringeArts or Act II Playhouse’s humorous new play all about bad dates. You should also make a little time for Tinsel, the festive pop-up Christmas bar that just surprise-opened in Midtown Village. Get details on all this and much more below.

Friday, December 15

Tinsel, a pop-up Christmas bar in Philadelphia's Midtown Village

Photograph: Courtesy Tinsel

Tinsel at 116 S 12th St; 2pm; pay as you go
Don’t let the season go by without ducking into this festive pop-up Christmas bar in Midtown Village for a seasonal sip or three. The three-room venue is decked floor to ceiling with Christmas decor and features a bar stocked with holiday-inspired cocktails, and American and Belgian craft beers like Troegs Mad Elf ($7), Hardywood Bourbon Gingerbread Stout ($8) and Chimay Grande Reserve ($9).

Bad Dates at Act II Playhouse; 8pm; $27-$38
Theresa Rebeck has a knack for combining contemporary issues, a sassy pop sensibility and a touch of mordent social satire. She won many fans for life as the creator of NBC’s Smash, but more than that, she’s an accomplished and prolific playwright. Surely just the title of this single-character work will resonate with many women. Also in the plus column? The beleaguered but buoyant heroine is played here by the very funny Karen Peakes.

Get Pegged at FringeArts; 10:30pm; $5–$10
Bearded Ladies Cabaret Artistic Director John Jarboe hosts this monthly, late-night musical series inspired by old-school French cabaret. It features a top-notch lineup of vocal and performance-art talents from Philadelphia, New York City and beyond. This time around, featured vocalists include singing storyteller Virgil Gadson and Martha Stuckey.

Saturday, December 16

A Very Philly Christmas in Fairmount Park

Photograph: Courtesy Fairmount Park/Albert Yee

Chestnut Hill Holiday Parade at 8700 Germantown Ave; 9am; free
Get up bright and early Saturday to catch the hourlong procession down Germantown Avenue featuring two dozen community groups and characters like the Philly Phanatic and Santa. Also be sure to check out the Market at Fairway at the end of the route for more holiday haps in the form of caroling, bonfires and snacks.

Greensgrow Holiday Bazaar at Greensgrow Farms; 10am; pay as you go
The urban farm in Kensington is a one-stop shop for Christmas decor such as trees and wreaths, plus all kinds of handmade gifts, jewelry and more.

A Very Philly Christmas at Fairmount Park; 10am; $8–$35
The five historic houses of Fairmount Park get festooned for the holidays with adornments that would have been used when families actually inhabited the homes ages ago. They’re open for tours throughout the yuletide season, but for the full experience, check out the special programming in early December like live music, carriage rides and culinary events.

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.

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 from Nov 18 to Dec 23 from 10am to 7pm.

GayBINGO: White Christmas at the Gershman Y; 6pm; $25–$35
This version of the BINGO bash, led by a campy gaggle of drag queens who call themselves the Bingo Verifying Divas (BVDs), is White Christmas-themed. Throw on your best holiday garb and meet the gals at the tables. Proceeds benefit local HIV/AIDS-fighting nonprofit AIDS Fund—an added perk in this season of giving.

The Glorious Sound of Christmas at the Kimmel Center; 7pm; $53–$96
Bramwell Tovey conducts the Philadelphia Orchestra in an epic program of holiday favorites that features vocals from opera singer J’Nai Bridges and the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia.

Sunday, December 17

Do some Christmas shopping at the Mt Airy Art Garage Holiday Market

Photograph: Courtesy Mt Airy Art Garage

Mt Airy Art Garage Holiday Market at 11 W Mount Airy Ave; noon; pay as you go
Head to this pop-up shop in Mount Airy for locally made fine art and crafts along with music, food and loads of community spirit.

A Philly POPS Christmas at the Kimmel Center; 7pm; $39–$147
The beloved local orchestra presents a night of holiday tunes featuring vocals by the Philadelphia Boys Choir, the Philly POPS Festival Chorus, the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas Gospel Choir and more.

Last chance: The Art of Swimming at the HeadHouse; 6:30pm; $20
Philly theater troupe Tiny Dynamite’s clever series A Play, a Pie and a Pint—which takes place in a bar and grants each ticket holder a theater performance, beer and a slice of pizza—returns with the story of Mercedes Gleitze (played by Lee Minora), a 1920s athlete who obliterated people’s perception of women in sports when she swam 20 miles across the frigid English Channel. Actor and composer Daniel Ison plays live music throughout each performance.

Last chance: The Craftsman at Lantern Theater Company; 8pm; $15–$45
Seemingly every company in the area has staged something from Barrymore-winning playwright Bruce Graham—and now it’s Lantern Theater’s turn with this world premiere that concerns a Dutch art dealer on trial for selling Vermeer paintings to the Nazis. Look out for appearances by company regulars Dan Hodge, Anthony Lawton and Ian Merrill Peakes in this dark and provocative drama that examines the concepts of betrayal and genius.

Ongoing

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.

Christmas Village at LOVE Park; 11am; pay as you go
Philadelphia’s LOVE Park reopens for one month to host this 10th annual German-inspired holiday market. 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.

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.

George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker at the Academy of Music; 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; 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.

Rothman Ice Rink and America’s Garden Capital Maze at Dilworth Park; all day; pay as you go
Get the full holiday experience at this charming rink in the shadow of City Hall. Besides endless skating, this year’s Wintergarden features the Rothman Institute Cabin, where you can cozy up with seasonal cocktails, craft beer and light bites; the America’s Garden Capital Maze, a “popup maze-meets-garden” full of photogenic plants and lights; and the Made in Philadelphia Holiday Market, which features wares from area artists, craftspeople and confectionary wizards.

“Winter Fountains for the Parkway” along the Ben Franklin Parkway; 6pm; free
In celebration of its 100th year, the Benjamin Franklin Parkway will be decorated with a dazzling light and video show by artist Jennifer Steinkamp. Starting in early December and lasting through March, the installation comprises five 13-foot high domes lined up along the parkway. After dark, the domes will become glowing projection screens featuring animated videos inspired by the cultural institutions that line the boulevard—places like the Franklin Institute and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Steinkamp’s work is known for its sensuous beauty and transformative power. Prepare to be mesmerized.

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