As we barrel further into holiday season, Philadelphia’s event calendar is bursting at the seams with all kinds of fun to-dos. Those in the yuletide spirit will find plenty to keep them busy this weekend, including the always fun and hilarious Running of the Santas and the beloved annual tradition Latkepalooza. Those looking to wrap up their Christmas shopping can find local-made gifts at a slew of pop-up holiday markets, like the Go West! Craft Fest and Crafty Balboa Holiday Market. If you need a break from all the holiday stuff, check out concerts by Strand of Oaks or the U.K.’s Wolf Alice. Comedians Earthquake and Matt Bellassai are also in town, along with John Waters who presents his annual and oh-so-irreverent Christmas show at Union Transfer. Find details about all this in our guide to the weekend below.
Friday, December 8
Drexel’s D&M Shop at Drexel University Urban Center; 10am; pay as you go
Students and faculty from Drexel’s Design & Merchandising department curate this festive and stylish pop-up market featuring unique tote bags, clothing and accessories and more arty knickknacks.
“Kiefer Rodin” at the Barnes Foundation; 11am; $30
This latest special exhibit at the Barnes Foundation, pairs the French sculptor Auguste Rodin, known for sculptural masterpieces like The Thinker and The Kiss, with contemporary German artist Anselm Kiefer, who’s made a name for himself with unflinching critiques of Germany’s dark role in history.
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.
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.
My Fair Lady at Quintessence Theatre Group; 7:30pm; $18–$40
This small company has done some fine, often very imaginative work in its home base, a wonderfully atmospheric former movie theater. They specialize in classical theater—so My Fair Lady is both in their wheelhouse and an intriguing stretch. They’ll use the charming two-piano version that was a big Chicago hit not long ago, so expect the production to be full of interesting touches.
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.
Earthquake at Punch Line Philly; 8 and 10:15pm; $25–$35
Nobody does it like Earthquake, the Washington, D.C. comic that has the volume, intensity and gravitas of an evangelical preacher. Just because his sermons are hilariously dirty doesn’t mean he’s not speaking the holy truth.
Beautiful Decay at the Wilma Theater; 8pm; $25–$50
BalletX, now in its second decade, is a Philadelphia phenomenon—a local favorite that has also acquired a national and even international fan base. Their work, a blend of classical ballet and contemporary style, includes over 60 world premieres by major choreographers that blend classical ballet with contemporary dance. Their fall season, presented at the Wilma Theater brings back this fave, a hypnotic meditation on aging by choreographer Nicolo Fonte.
Saturday, December 9
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.
Winter Wonderland at Smith Memorial Playground; 10am; $10
Little ones can take in some holiday fun at this annual celebration that’s packed with twinkling lights, an itinerary of arts and crafts activities, live music, an ice-carving demonstration and workshops such as gingerbread-house–building and s’mores-making. Moms and dads can sit back or join in on the fun. (You know you want to get your hands on those s’mores.)
“Dennis Beach” at Schmidt/Dean Gallery; 10:30am; free
Deeply influenced by the geometry found in nature, Beach makes abstract sculptures representing what he sees around him—from ripples in a sand bar to waves in the ocean. Based in Newport, Delaware, Beach is a master of minimalism and has a love of repeating shapes and color relationships that he expresses through wood and paint.
Running of the Santas at Electric Factory; 11am; $15
Ten thousands Santas descend on the Electric Factory for a day of drinking, live music and a chilly, hilarious race around town in their fake beards and red getup.
South Philly Handmade Brigade at 1241 Carpenter Studios; 11am; pay as you go
Shop this sure bet located in cool South Philly artist warehouse 1241 Carpenter Street Studios for one-of-a-kind finds ranging from original artwork and sculpture to vintage goods like clothing and accessories.
Crafty Balboa Holiday Market at BOK; 11am; pay as you go
This year’s makers’ market will be the biggest ever, with more than 80 vendors, make-and-take art stations and a free Occasionette tote bag filled with gifts from local artists for those who arrive early. Check out our list of more Christmas markets in Philadelphia for more shopping options throughout the season.
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 and opportunities to cut your own Christmas tree from Nov 18 to Dec 23 from 10am to 7pm.
Wolf Alice at the Trocadero; 7pm; $20–$25
These Brits—who released their second record, Visions of a Life in October—make rock so sleek and shiny it feels like a gaudy guilty pleasure to have it playing in your headphones while you wander the dollar store.
Hiss Golden Messenger at World Café Live; 7pm; $17
Sturdy, country-ish indie rock from North Carolina. Their latest, Lateness of Dancers, is delightfully no-frills.
F*ck Clothes Go Naked at Tabu Lounge and Sports Bar; 7pm; $10–$15
New York nude-party producers Go Naked bring their first Philly production to gay sports bar Tabu Lounge and Sports Bar. The bash is open to all male-identifying folks who are okay with checking every thread of clothing at the door and mingling and drinking in the buff. Keep in mind; this is not a sex party. Any kind of randy activity is frowned upon and violators will be shown the door. Yes, you can put your clothes back on first.
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.
A John Waters Christmas at Union Transfer; 8pm; $47.50–$125
The delightfully twisted filmmaker, author and raconteur comes to town to “spread yuletide profanity” in this hilarious one-man show that’s perfect for those pointing a middle finger at Christmas. The self-proclaimed People’s Pervert will discuss his hatred of holiday cards and the concept of Santa as a sex object, plus air the season’s annual list of “Unsafe Toys to Give Your Child.” Bring your cha-cha heels!
Sunday, December 10
Go West! Craft Fest at the Rotunda; 10am; pay as you go
West Philadelphia’s popular market returns just in time for the holidays, with creative wares like jewelry, stationery and gifts for kids.
Holiday Show at Locks Gallery; 10am; free
Looking for holiday gifts? You wouldn’t go wrong at this blue-chip gallery dealing exclusively in contemporary art since 1968. It’s known for cultivating a national audience with artists, including Edna Andrade, Lynda Benglis, Alexander Calder, Thomas Chimes, Virgil Marti, Sarah McEneaney, Alice Neel and Warren Rohrer. This fourth-annual holiday show presents a festive and eclectic selection of work.
Latkepalooza at the Gershman Y; 2pm; $20
Delicious, soul-filling potato pancakes are the star of the show at this annual food fest, which invites local eateries to share their best latke recipes. Your ticket gets you a taste from each restaurant, including Estia, Mission Taqueria and Kanella. Can’t make it this year? Take your own latke crawl with our guide to the best latkes in Philly.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Macy’s Dickens Village at Macy’s; 10am; free
Trudge up to the third floor of Macy’s, where pint-size Dickens characters are arranged in settings familiar to fans of A Christmas Carol, each of their faces frozen with a hideous rictus usually only observed on the newly embalmed. Scrooge, Tiny Tim, Jacob Marley—they’re all present to mime the timeless story of a rich man tormented by otherworldly ghouls into doing something kind for once. From there, travel on through to Santaland (through Dec 24) where the kids can hop on the jolly man’s lap for photos and tell him what they want for Christmas.