WHAT: It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and often the most expensive. But getting the most out of the holiday season in Philadelphia doesn’t have to cost much. In fact, some of the city’s best events are free.
TIMELESS CLASSIC: You can’t get more traditional Philly than the Macy’s old-school Christmas Light Show. Housed inside the historic Wanamaker building, the three-story-high light display of dancing snowmen, twinkling snowflakes and lively reindeer has been a holiday favorite since 1955. Music is provided by the world-famous Wanamaker pipe organ. The free 15-minute presentation begins at the top of every hour from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., except on Christmas Eve, when the last show begins at 5 p.m.
DON’T BE A HUMBUG: In between the light shows at Macy’s, holiday shoppers can take a step back in time by visiting the Dickens Village on the third floor of the store—a Philadelphia tradition for more than 25 years. A recreation of London in Victorian times, the village is a life-size rendition of Charles Dickens’ famous tale “A Christmas Carol.” Strolling through the village is free, and it is open to visitors every day, except Christmas and New Year’s, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
MODERN CLASSIC: Only a few years old, the Comcast Holiday Spectacular has already become a 21st century Philly family tradition. Projected on the stunning 83-foot-by-25-foot video wall inside the lobby of the Comcast Center building in Center City, the show features dazzling computer-generated images of Philadelphia scenery and scenes from “The Nutcracker” performed by the Pennsylvania Ballet in high-definition and 3-D. The 15-minute show runs on the hour from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m. through New Year’s. On weekdays, however, there is no show at 5 p.m.
VILLAGE PEOPLE: Go global at Love Park, across from City Hall, at the European-influenced Philadelphia Christmas Village. Patterned after the famous Christkindlmarket in Nuremberg, Germany, the outdoor shopping village is comprised of booths selling ornaments, arts, crafts, toys, hot food, drinks and sweets. Stroll and listen to music from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday now through Christmas Eve.
STRINGS OF PRIDE: In South Philadelphia, hanging holiday lights is not just an annual tradition—it’s an act of neighborhood pride. To see some impressive festooning, take a drive along Wolf Street, near 12th and 13th streets, and then let the glow of other blocks lead you on an impromptu tour.
GOLDEN SLIPPERS: On New Year’s Day, head over to Broad Street, south of City Hall, to watch men dressed as wenches, string bands swathed in feathers and dancing brigades in sequins strut in the Mummer’s Parade. A tradition that has been observed by Philadelphians since the 1800s, the parade begins at 10 a.m. and lasts for at least six hours.