8 Philly holiday traditions that have stood the test of time

Philadelphia is a city of traditions — particularly when it comes to the holidays.

From family-friendly events like the Macy's Christmas Light Show and Christmas at Longwood Gardens, to the debaucherous, sometimes controversial Mummers, we've got plenty to chose from. And while some of those traditions don't have a decades-long pedigree — like Christmas Village, which was established in 2008 — they nonetheless have become something to which many Philadelphians look forward all year.

Here, we put together some of the city’s biggest, most beloved seasonal activities that have stood the test of time. Which is your favorite?

Macy’s Christmas Light Show, Center City

Camera icon Stephanie Aaronson / Staff Photographer
The Macy's Christmas Light Show in Philadelphia, on Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013.

Formerly known as the “John Wanamaker Christmas Light Show,” this yuletide Philly tradition has been going strong since 1956. The production is now called the Macy’s Christmas Light Show, and uses energy-efficient bulbs and a computer system to choreograph the twinkling lights. Aside from those things, little else has changed. 

Visitors to the Macy's store on Market Street in Center City are treated to 100,000 twinkling lights on a four-story-high display and music from the Wanamaker Grand Organ — the largest playable pipe organ on Earth.  The Macy’s light show ought to help clear up Philadelphians’ holiday grinchiness for years to come. It runs six times a day through New Year's Eve.

Dickens Village, Center City

Camera icon Tomonori Kubo / Daily News
Dickens Village’s debut at Macy’s in 2006. The village, reflecting 1840s London, depicts more than 100 figurines in period dress, a scene straight out of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. 

Coincidentally, this Christmas tradition is also displayed at the Center City Macy's.  But when it opened up in 1985, Dickens Village was stationed a few blocks east, in the the former Strawbridge and Clothier department store at 8th and Market. Macy’s took over the collection of life-size animatronic Dickens characters in 2006, when Macy's moved into the John Wanamaker building.

Now, the 6,000-square-foot, 26-scene attraction sits in the Egyptian Room on the third floor of Macy’s, where visitors are welcome from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. through Dec. 31. This annual Christmas tradition has been taking Dickens fans back to 1840s London for a taste of A Christmas Carol for more than 30 years.

A Longwood Christmas, Kennett Square

Camera icon Daniel Traub
Christmas at Longwood Gardens in 2011.

Christmas celebrations at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square date back to the 1920s, when founder Pierre S. duPont began inviting employees and elderly area residents to enjoy the holidays at Longwood with gifts and entertainment. The festivities opened up to the public in 1957, and quickly became a holiday staple in the Philadelphia area.

A Longwood Christmas currently features choreographed fountains, half a million lights, 6,000 seasonal plants, and 50 decked-out trees.  Sing-alongs and fire pits encourage visitors to join in the communal spirit of the season. The event runs Nov. 24 through Jan. 8 at a cost of $12 to $23 per person, depending on the time of day.

Christmas Village, Center City

Camera icon ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer
Hailey Helffrich, 4, of Allentown, Pa. goes to the light at the Amazing Lights booth at the Christmas Village at City Hall in Phila. on November 27, 2016.

Christmas Village may be a fairly recent tradition here in Philadelphia, but it hearkens back to 15th century Germany, where "Christkindlmarkets" began. Our version arrived on the west side of City Hall in November 2008, with its iconic plywood huts, Christmas swag, and classic holiday foods. 

Since its inception, Christmas Village has undergone several changes, including moves back and forth between City Hall and LOVE Park, and a name change in 2010 that briefly dropped “Christmas” from the holiday market’s title. It is currently open through Christmas Eve, and features more than 80 vendors, plus a carousel.

Pennsylvania Ballet’s ‘The Nutcracker,' Center City

Camera icon Erin Baiano / Paul Kolnik Studio
The Pennsylvania Ballet performs a rendition of George Balanchine’s ‘The Nutcrucker’ in Dec. 2007.

One of Philadelphia’s most popular family events for the holidays, the Pennsylvania Ballet’s rendition of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker dates back to 1968, 14 years after the ballet made its debut in New York City in 1954.

This year, The Nutcracker runs at the Academy of Music through Dec. 31, with tickets priced between $25 and $165. At 48 years in, the ballet reportedly draws some 50,000 visitors annually, according to the Pennsylvania Ballet.

The Mummers Parade

Camera icon Tom Gralish / Staff Photographer
The 2015 Philadelphia Mummers Parade followed a new southbound route on Broad Street, going from City Hall to Washington Avenue.

The Mummer tradition officially began in 1901, but it comes to us direct from 17th-century Europe, where groups would perform skits or poems throughout their ‘hoods on Dec. 26 or New Year’s Day, in exchange for food and drink. The tradition has evolved some here in Philadelphia to give us the drunken, sometimes politically incorrect debauchery we now associate with the Mummers. 

After the last parade, however, organizers denounced the "hate and bigotry" present in some divisions’ presentations, and later incorporated sensitivity training for participants, as well as a formal theme-review process by the city.  The Jan. 1, 2017, parade will be the first test of the new Mummers.

New Year’s Eve Fireworks on the Delaware River, Old City

Camera icon Michael S. Wirtz / Staff Photographer
Fireworks go up from barges on the Delaware River at Penn's Landing on Dec. 31, 2011.

Philadelphians have been enjoying New Year’s Eve fireworks over the Delaware River Waterfront since 1991, and since then, the event has become one of the city’s most popular holiday traditions.

In 2009, we doubled our pleasure with the addition of an additional, earlier fireworks display at 6 p.m., courtesy of Sugarhouse Casino. Now, folks can take in either display from a number of spots, including the Great Plaza at Penn’s Landing, Blue Cross RiverRink, and Battleship New Jersey

Reading Terminal Market Holiday Railroad, Center City

Camera icon Ryan S. Greenberg / Staff Photographer
Reading Terminal Market flips the switch on its model railroad in 2012.

This annual model railroad display first cropped up at Reading Terminal Market in 2004 after the market's former general manager Paul Steinke took over SEPTA’s Magical Holiday Railway, which the transit agency had discontinued in 2003 due to cost-cutting efforts.

Since then, the 500-square-foot interactive display has grown to include 17 trains on a 1/3-mile track, up significantly from its debut of just six trains and 450 feet of track. Located in Reading Terminal’s Piano Court, the display will be up through New Year’s Eve.