Best Christmas events in Philadelphia
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.
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.
Linvilla Orchards is one of the best Christmas tree farms near Philadelphia, featuring a whopping 40,000 firs of all shapes and sizes. A trip out there to cut your own Christmas tree begins with a hayride through the 300-acre farm, where you’ll wind through verdant tree forests stocked with Canaan and Douglas Fir varities. After you chop down your pick, Linvilla employees will wrap it up and help you haul it back to your vehicle. Not in the mood to cut your own Christmas tree? You can also shop from a variety of pre-cut ones in the Garden Center, and maybe pick up some holiday decor while you’re there. Be sure to head back on select Saturdays in December to take one of the nighttime Wassailing Caroling Hayrides.
At 98 years old, this is the oldest parade of its kind in the country (take that, Macy’s). Starting at 20th and Market streets and promenading along Benjamin Franklin Parkway, the 1.4-mile procession includes lively floats and gigantic balloons that make their way along the route, stopping once in a while for spectators to have a good peek—or to give celebrity guests a chance to belt out a holiday tune. The spectacle ends with the arrival of Santa, a sure-fire sign that Christmas is just around the corner.
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 for those who need 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.
Since 2008, families have oohed and ahhed at this all-singing, all-dancing holiday show on a 2,100 square-foot hi-def LED video wall in the Comcast Center. At the top of every hour from 10am to 8pm, a projector displays massive winter scenes on the Comcast Experience video wall while you listen to orchestral versions of holiday songs. Also keep a look out for animatronic snowmen and ice skating penguins and a video snippet of George Balanchine's The Nutcracker as performed by the Pennsylvania Ballet.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Every year, Philadelphia’s upscale food court sets up an oversize holiday village with 17 model trains chugging along a third-of-a-mile track. This year’s setup comprises five displays celebrating the history of the Reading Terminal Market.
Chestnut Hill horticultural haven Morris Arboretum decorates its adorable quarter-mile-long mini railway for the holidays, adorning the tiny village with tinsel and miniature wreaths and Christmas trees. It’s open after dark every Friday in December, when you can grab a cup of hot cocoa from the onsite Compton Café and watch the train putter around the track with all the twinkling lights aglow. On select nights, caroloers stop by to add some holiday tunes to the cutesy experience.
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.
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. It’s a heart-warming, only-in-Philly kind of experience—and it’s extra AF.
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.
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.
Be transported to 1840s London at this family-friendly Charles Dickens–themed hoopla. Mingle with characters from A Christmas Carol, take horse and carriage rides, and drink hot toddies till the cows come home.
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.
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.
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!
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.