As fall fades into winter, the hours of daylight grow short, and darkness appears to reign. For millennia, people have been “racing against the dying of the light” by observing various festivals and religious holidays that center on light overcoming darkness. The Romans celebrated Saturnalia; the Celts, the Winter Solstice; the Jews, Hanukkah; and the Christians, Christmas. All of these observances have light as an underlying theme. Not to be outdone in celebrating light is Pittsburgh’s Light Up Night. Here are some of the annual festivities that usually take place around Light Up Night.
Light Up Night kicks off the annual holiday season for Pittsburgh. The city dons its finest and celebrates the season until it concludes with a final grand spectacle: First Night Pittsburgh on New Year’s Eve. Tens of thousands annually flock to the Golden Triangle for tree lighting ceremonies, caroling, and the arrival of Santa. The party really begins when the Jolly Old Elf arrives at Point State Park as he leads the crowd in caroling and sets off the fireworks spectacular.
At PPG Place and Wintergarden, life-sized Santas are put on display as well as gingerbread houses and model trains. The gingerbread houses are created by area chefs, senior citizens and students, and they are surrounded by a creative train layout. Outside, the Rink at PPG Place also opens on Light Up Night and remains in operation for the winter, closing sometime in March. The 65-foot Christmas tree at the center of the rink draws skaters to it as if it were a magnetic pole. There is nothing more magical than skating at night at PPG Place with the glass spires reflecting the lights of the Christmas tree and snow gently falling.
Pittsburgh hosts many more festivities during Light Up season:
Official Tree Lighting and Ceremonies take place all over the city with the lighting of the tree at the City-County Building starting things off. You can be on hand for those in the morning, then spend the afternoon having lunch and doing some Christmas shopping before taking in the rest of the festivities. World Cup Champion Meghan Klingenberg, a member of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team, assisted Mayor Bill Peduto in unveiling the Holiday Windows Display in 2015. The former Macy’s building will feature windows created by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera, Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, First Night Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh Dance Council, and Cirque Dreams Holidaze as well as two iconic Macy’s designs.
In addition, with the closing of the Macy’s in downtown, those who enjoyed a visit to Macy’s Santa Land need not be disappointed. Six people who worked in Santa Land have established their own company, The Original Downtown Santa-Land Company, and are recreating Santa Land at One Oxford Centre Monday through Saturday, and on Sundays in the Cultural District’s Theater Square box office as One Oxford Centre is closed on Sundays.
What’s merrymaking without music? Light Up Night has numerous venues and artists performing throughout the night, everything from classical to country. For those who like their music classical, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra is opening its doors for a free, 45-minute concert at Heinz Hall, featuring assistant conductor Andrés Franco. He will lead the symphony in works by Strauss, Tchaikovsky and others notable artists. The Duquesne University Young Artist National Concerto Competition winner, violinist Nathan Meltzer, will be featured on Saint Saens’ Introduction and Rondo capriccioso. Vocalists Claudia Rosenthal and Brian Vu from the Pittsburgh Opera Resident Artist program will also perform pieces from popular operas. While the concert is free, tickets are required. Reserve tickets in advance. Tickets will also be available on the night of the performance on a first-come, first-served basis.
Perhaps the most magical spot in the whole city during the holidays, the MassMutual Rink at PPG Place opens on Light Up Night and remains open through early March. The MassMutual Ice Rink at PPG place is possibly the hottest destination for holiday fun. Last year, nearly 70,000 skaters enjoyed gliding on the ice at the rink, which is larger than the one at Rockefeller Center. It is also one of the city’s most romantic spots for the holidays with an estimated 700 engagements occurring there during the past 14 years. For hours and admission information, visit the website at: www.ppgplace.com/directory/the-rink/
Just a few steps away is the Peoples Gas Holiday Market in Market Square. No need to travel to Europe to get the Christkindlmarkt experience with the Peoples Gas Holiday Market. The market will once again transform Pittsburgh’s Market Square into a European shopping village where you can buy high quality gifts. The market opens on Light Up Night and continues through late December. Learn more at: www.peoples-gas.com/holidaymarket.aspx
If you’re aiming to keep the Christ in Christmas, a visit to the Pittsburgh Crèche in U.S. Steel Plaza is a must. This life-sized display was built in 1999, a replica of the one at St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City. It is the only one of its kind in the world. Its yearly dedication takes place at noon on the afternoon of Light Up Night and remains on display until mid-January.
Although Horne’s Department store is long gone, its iconic Christmas tree has become a Pittsburgh tradition. Like an old friend we only get to see once a year, this tree which graces the corner of the building on Penn Avenue and Stanwix Street is welcomed back every year and is loved and cherished by Pittsburghers who as children were mesmerized by its giant proportions.
While all of these events and displays are worth a visit alone, the glittering cityscape on Light Up Night is incomparable and breathtaking. When illuminated, Pittsburgh teems with lights. They line rivers, climb mountains, illuminate cones, and outline bridges. With Pittsburgh’s unique geography of being situated at the confluence of three rivers and being surrounded by mountains, opportunities for spotlighting the city’s most attractive aspects are endless. Lighted tracks from Pittsburgh’s two remaining inclines, The Duquesne and The Monongahela, scale Mt. Washington.
Surrounded by so much water, Pittsburgh naturally has many bridges. It wasn’t until recently that the city began to illuminate its bridges. The first to receive lighting was the historic Smithfield Street Bridge. Soon many of the other bridges leading into the city were lighted. On Light Up Night they act as lighted portals for entry into our magnificent electrical metropolis. One unusual light sits atop the Carnegie Science Center on the North Side. This cone-shaped glowing weather forecaster called “E-motion” changes color with the weather outlook. [clear]
There are several vantage points throughout the city that provide exceptional views of Pittsburgh as it’s decked out in light. Perhaps the most popular is from high atop Mt. Washington on Grandview Avenue. This street was aptly named as it provides a panoramic view of Pittsburgh. From Grandview Avenue, the illuminated city is spread out before the observer as if it were a treasure chest overflowing with glittering amber, ruby, sapphire and diamond jewels.
Restaurants on Mt. Washington are packed on Light Up Night with patrons who want to indulge the senses not only with the beautiful sight of the city, but with gastronomic delights as well. Strolling along the walkway and overlooks creates memories that last a lifetime.
Both the North Shore and Station Square provide exceptional views as well. The lights reflect on the rivers in puddles of color reminiscent of a Monet masterpiece. Not to be forgotten is the view from Point State Park. Towers of lights emanating from the skyscrapers rising before and surrounding the visitors gives one the sense of being immersed and absorbed into the glow of the city.
Less obvious venues for taking in Light Up Night should not be overlooked. Many river boats ply the waters on Light Up Night. While enjoying a relaxing evening aboard ship, guests are treated to an excursion around the city. Instead of merely enjoying one view, a riverboat cruise affords the opportunity for taking in many different vistas.
Finally, nothing emphasizes light more than darkness. Some spectacular views are available from area neighborhoods surrounding the city. The same hilltops that Fourth of July revelers seek out to enjoy the city’s fireworks displays also provide interesting views on Light Up Night. From the peaceful darkness of Schenley Park in Oakland on Light Up Night, Pittsburgh seems to glow even more brightly. Neighborhoods such as Fineview, the West End, and The South Side are among some of the places outside of the Golden Triangle where lesser known views of the city may be enjoyed.
You can get around in style this holiday season. The free Holly Trolley that debuted in 1994 makes a loop throughout the Golden Triangle taking revelers to all the various locations, while horse-drawn carriage rides have two stops one at PPG Place and another at One Oxford Centre.
It wouldn’t be a celebration in Pittsburgh without fireworks. A dazzling Zambelli Fireworks display commences at 9:38 p.m. from the Warhol Bridge. The fireworks are synchronized to holiday songs and will be broadcast live on Q92.9. What a way to cap off the evening in style. No matter where you are, when Pittsburgh ups its wattage, don’t miss it. Light Up Night is for everyone! Here’s our guide to local light up nights:
Be sure to contact groups directly for their schedule
The Beaver County Festival of Trees is held in The Lodge at Bradys Run County Park in Beaver Falls. Visit the display of lavishly decorated Christmas trees, the North Pole, Santa Land, and enjoy entertainment and model train displays. The festival runs on two weekends: the first with a special opening on Thanksgiving evening and continuing on Friday, Saturday and Sunday; the second on the following weekend on Friday through Sunday. Proceeds benefit the children in care of the Beaver County Children and Youth Services agency.
You’ll want to be in Beaver Falls for its annual Lighted Christmas Parade, which features beautiful lighted floats, fire trucks, Jeeps, and motorcycles. You can also visit with Santa after the parade.
Beaver County kicks off the holiday season with a Light-Up Festival in downtown Beaver. Entertainment, visits and photos with Santa, a parade, horse-drawn carriage rides, and fireworks are only some of the events planned to start your holidays.
Indiana, Pennsylvania, is known as the “The Christmas Tree Capital of the World,” and it’s also the hometown of legendary actor Jimmy Stewart, who starred in the beloved Christmas classic film, It’s a Wonderful Life. To pay tribute to this iconic movie and to kick off the holiday season, Indiana holds a parade and festival that includes a model train display, crafts and entertainment, and refreshments. The Indiana Theatre also runs It’s a Wonderful Life all day for free.
Three events highlight the holiday season at Old Economy Village in Ambridge. Children can visit with Belsnickel, the German helper of St. Nicholas. There, children can check his book to see if they are on the naughty or nice list. Merrymakers can dine by candlelight in the historic Feast Hall while enjoying a performance by the Pittsburgh Opera. You can also tour the village, which has been decked out for Christmas.
Since 1956, Overly’s Country Christmas has been putting the magic in the Christmas season. Located at the Westmoreland County Fairgrounds, Overly’s features a charming Christmas Village, an enormous light display, a Talking Christmas bonfire, and even a manger to round out the attractions.
Cookies Monsters, this is your tour. More than two dozen Lawrenceville businesses offer sweet samples of their favorite cookies as well as chances to win prizes and special discounts during the 16th annual cookie tour. The free, family event showcases local businesses and takes place in early December.
New this year, and destined to become a holiday favorite, is Shadrack’s Christmas Wonderland. Located at the Butler County Fairgrounds in Prospect, the music and synchronized lights spectacular will certainly dazzle visitors. In the warmth and comfort of their cars, visitors tune in their radios to the music that is choreographed to the cutting edge light display. Shadrack’s has been casting their spell of Christmas magic in five locations in the South, but this is the first display in the North. Admission is $25 per car, so pack the family into the car and head over to the newest event to light up the holidays.
Bring the family to enjoy cookies, drinks, and of course, Santa and Mrs. Claus and a fireworks display! Located in front of the Shaler North Hills Library, it is sure to be a fun and festive evening for the entire family.
Butler County’s Spirit of Christmas Parade takes place on Main Street in Butler. In addition to the parade, children can play the life-sized version of the game Candyland, decorate cookies, visit a petting zoo, and take selfies with Elfie and friends.
Washington inaugurates the holiday season with the lighting of the Christmas tree and a parade. Attendees can also enjoy music, hot chocolate and cookies.
Sewickley transforms into a Department 56 Dickens Christmas Village this time of year when it kicks off the holiday season with Sewickley Light Up Night. Music, free horse-drawn carriage rides, live reindeer, ice carvings, food vendors, and, of course, fireworks set the stage for a cheery Christmas season. The fun doesn’t end with Light Up Night because on Saturdays, Santa holds court in Wolcott Park, and the free carriage rides and music continue on Sundays.