As the winter chill sets in, Philadelphia glows with the warmth of the holiday season. The city's holiday traditions, festivities that occur mainly outdoors with plenty of opportunities for social distancing and ventilation, are now more appreciated than ever. 

This year expect to see a few city favorites returning after a year off, while many other long-standing holiday traditions of the city continue to spread the joy of the season.

Here are some of our favorite Christmas events in Philadelphia to enjoy this year.

How to get into the Christmas spirit

Dickens’ Village, the city's favorite holiday hamlet since 1985

Based on ‘A Christmas Carol’ by Charles Dickens, the 6000-square-foot Dickens’ Village has been attracting holiday visitors since 1985. Located on the 3rd floor of The Wanamaker Building, patrons can walk through the holiday hamlet and view animated scenes depicting various parts of the story. A figure of Dickens himself welcomes visitors before they stroll through Christmas past, present, and future until they finally see Scrooge come to his senses and spread holiday cheer. The village is open to guests from Black Friday through New Year’s Eve from 10am-7 pm and has no entry fee.

The Comcast Holiday Spectacular returns this year and moves outside

Viewers are treated to a 15-minute visual presentation projected onto the Comcast Experience video wall outside of the Comcast Center. Classic music such as ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ and ‘Carol of the Bells’ plays as onlookers observe a cheerful holiday-centric spectacle. The free presentation is capped off by a small segment of ‘The Nutcracker’ performed by the Pennsylvania Ballet. Shows run daily from Thanksgiving through New Year’s at the top of each hour from 10am-8pm except for weekdays at 5pm.

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A large Christmas tree stands in front of a tapestry of LED lights in the atrium of a shopping mall in Philadelphia at Christmastime
The light show at Macy's in Philadelphia is a multigenerational tradition © travelif / Getty Images

Macy’s Christmas Light Show narrated by Julie Andrews

The festivities at Macy’s have been a tradition since 1956. Located in The Wanamaker Building, the Christmas Light Show takes place in the multi-story atrium. Generations gather around to see the 100,000 LED light show depicting holiday fables such as ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,’ ‘The Nutcracker,’ and ‘Frosty the Snowman.’ Narrated by Julie Andrews and accompanied by music from the Wanamaker Grand Court Organ – the world’s largest playable instrument – the complimentary show runs once daily at 10:30am through December 24, 2021, then at 11:30am from December 25 through New Year’s Eve.

The best gifts can be found at Made in Philadelphia Holiday Market

Right outside of City Hall at Dilworth Park is the Made in Philadelphia Holiday Market where a curated selection of local vendors sells their crafted wares. Favorites include earrings made from vintage candy tins and handmade knit scarves. Those searching for adorably decorated sugar cookies for coworkers or seeking urban-looking T-shirts for that hard-to-buy-for nephew will find that this market is brimming with unique items to give. The market is open from the Saturday before Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day.

Ice Skating in the heart of the city, Dilworth Park

Right near the Made in Philadelphia Holiday Market is an opportunity for visitors to test their ice skating skills at the Rothman Institute Ice Rink in Dilworth Park. Skating occurs from early November through late February. This activity is a fabulous option for families who want to break up the holiday festivities as some can shop and others can head out onto the ice – all while William Penn overlooks Christmas in Philadelphia from the pinnacle of City Hall.

People walk past wooden merchant stalls during Christmas in Philadelphia at night
The Christmas market at Love Park in Philadelphia is a sight unto itself © aimintang / Getty Images

Savoring hot mulled wine at The Christmas Village in LOVE Park

Placed to celebrate the bicentennial of the United States in 1976, the LOVE statue in JFK Plaza is a Philadelphia icon, yet when the holiday season hits, the park fills up with 80 wooden booths laden with merchants from all over the world. From Thanksgiving through Christmas Eve, visitors can carry around a mug of hot mulled wine to stay warm as they shop for gifts, peruse Philadelphia souvenirs and head into a heated tent to browse German-made holiday items.

Reading Terminal Market's the place for the best variety of local food

The Reading Terminal Market is an ideal lunch stop where patrons can feast on a genuine Philly cheesesteak at George’s or purchase freshly baked, home-style cookies at The Famous 4th Street Cookie Company. The market is also home to the Reading Terminal Holiday Railroad, which has 25 individual trains. The tracks are set within 5 different scenes depicting local sights such as the PA Dutch countryside and holiday vignettes like The North Pole. The best part is that the display is free and completely interactive so that visitors can control the lights and trains as they move around the track.

The festive lights of Franklin Square Holiday Festival

It’s hard to acknowledge Philadelphia’s history without including Benjamin Franklin. After all, he established Philadelphia’s first fire company and founded the University of Pennsylvania in addition to making many other contributions to the city. The Franklin Square Holiday Festival pays tribute to him via 50,000 lights set to holiday music. From mid-November through New Year’s Eve the square boasts fire pits and seasonal treats for those who want to stay awhile. One highlight is an illuminated 12-foot tall kite, which pays homage to Franklin’s famed kite experiment.

Snow blankets the ground around leafless trees at Independence Hall in Philadelphia
Even Philadelphia's typical draws take on a special character at Christmas © Lady_Wonka / Getty Images

Where to stay in Philadelphia

Located in a refurbished, historic church, The Deacon is a boutique hotel whose 8 bedrooms include features such as arched ceilings and original stained glass. For those who wish to stay in the heart of the city, Penn’s View Hotel Philadelphia is on the National Register of Historic Places and is located nearby the Liberty Bell. Another inner-city option is Philadelphia 201, which is a few blocks from LOVE Park, which is perfect for those wishing to spend Christmas in Philadelphia.

You might also like:
10 quintessential Philadelphia city parks you must visit
5 essential Black history sites in Philadelphia
How to spend the perfect weekend in Philadelphia

This article was first published October 2019 and updated December 2021

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