Article

Top Things to Do in Philadelphia in December 2017

Iconic holiday attractions and shows, stellar shopping and more

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Photo by J. Fusco for Visit Philadelphia
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December is a magical time in Philadelphia.

The City of Brotherly Love shines bright during the holidays, with light shows, ice skating rinks, tree lightings, concerts and fireworks display. Let’s also not forget the the unbeatable holiday shopping opportunities (with no sales tax!) at pop-up shops and local boutiques spread throughout the area.

Beyond the holiday festivities, blockbuster exhibitions like Terracotta Warriors of the First Emperor at The Franklin Institute and monumental public art displays such as Parkway 100’s Winter Fountains bring rich cultural experiences to enjoy, and events like the Coffee and Tea Festival and the Army-Navy Game keep the city buzzing.

The month ends with two of Philly’s biggest annual events: the SugarHouse Casino New Year’s Eve on the Waterfront and the epic Mummers Parade, two outdoor celebrations that are not to be missed.

Read on for all of our top picks this month.

01

The Holidays at City Hall

— Photo by Peter Tobia/Center City District

Dates vary by attraction

The heart of Center City is packed with holiday pop ups, including the brand-new, nightly KLIP Collective creation, Deck the Hall Light Show at Dilworth Park. The outdoor Rothman Institute Ice Rink & Rothman Institute Cabin offer ice skating, skate rentals, twinkling lights and indoor space to warm up and fill up on snacks, cocktails, beer and hot drinks, while America’s Garden Capital Maze is a living labyrinth of seasonal plants and lights. Philly’s official tree overlooks North Broad Street, as does Craft Hall, an indoor beer garden, bakery and barbecue featuring Lost Breads and smoked meats. Within the open-air courtyard, the carousel returns, along with the Hernhut stars-topped stalls of the Made In Philadelphia Holiday Market of independent local vendors.

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02

Christmas Light Show at Macy's

The annual Christmas Light Show at Macy’s is a celebrated holiday tradition featuring dancing lights set to music from the Wanamaker Organ. — (J. Fusco for Visit Philadelphia)

Friday, November 23, 2018 – December 31, 2018

The Grand Court in the National Historic Landmark Wanamaker Building has hosted a Christmas Light Show since 1956. The department store revives the tradition of sugarplum fairies, dancing snowmen and more with a 100,000-light show narrated by Julie Andrews and accompanied by the famed Wanamaker Organ. Free performances take place every two hours during store hours. Between shows, visitors often tour the second floor’s vintage Dickens Village, setup of animated dolls retelling A Christmas Carol; each free walkthrough ends in a chance to meet and get photos with the real Santa.

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03

Blue Cross RiverRink Winterfest

Blue Cross RiverRink Winterfest houses an Olympic-size skating rink overlooking the Delaware River and ski chalet-style lodge to warm up in after a skate. — Photo courtesy DRWC

Friday, November 24, 2017 – March 04, 2018

The popular Blue Cross RiverRink Winterfest returns for year five with fire pits; a Kids Lodge arcade; a cozy, chalet-style Lodge Restaurant and Bar; 12 nights of Christmas movies; sweets from Franklin Fountain Confectionery Cabin; and hearty fare from Garces Group and Chickie’s & Pete’s — all centered around a regulation skating rink with a spectacular view of the Ben Franklin Bridge.

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04

Franklin Square Holiday Festival featuring the Electrical Spectacle Light Show

Franklin Square’s annual holiday festival features a gorgeous display of lights and music. — J. Fusco for Visit Philadelphia

Thursday, November 08, 2018 – December 31, 2018

The Franklin Square Holiday Festival featuring the Electrical Spectacle Light Show makes this park twinkle, with free shows every 30 minutes between 4 and 8 p.m. on weeknights and 4 and 9 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Among the 50,000 lights set to music are a giant, illuminated kite and key. Festivities include #FranklinSquareFridays; Saturdays with Santa; Seasonal Sounds on Sundays; rides on the holiday train and carousel; treats such as make-you-own s’mores, hot doughnuts, local beer and hot beverages — served in a warming tent or around fire pits in a beer garden; and mini-golf.

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05

The Comcast Holiday Spectacular

Comcast Holiday Spectacular performance Comcast Holiday Spectacular performance
— Photo by J. Fusco for Visit Philadelphia

November 23, 2017 – January 1, 2018

A massive, street-level, high-resolution LED display shows The Comcast Holiday Spectacular, 15-minute features of dancers from the Pennsylvania Ballet and a magical sleigh soaring through Philadelphia’s skyscape.

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06

Christmas Village in Philadelphia

— Photo by J. Fusco for Visit Philadelphia

November 23 – December 24, 2017

The German-style Christmas Village returns to a restored JFK Plaza, also known as LOVE Park. For the 10th year, 80 wooden booths of local and international merchants display and sell Käthe Wohlfahrt trimmings, wintry apparel, handmade toys and all manner of edible and drinkable treats, while entertainment keeps things festive. The LOVE sculpture makes its triumphant return in February 2018.

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07

SugarHouse Casino New Year’s Eve Fireworks on the Waterfront

Join the annual SugarHouse Casino New Year’s Eve celebration on the Waterfront to catch a grand fireworks display over the Delaware River. — Photo courtesy DRWC

Monday, December 31, 2018 – January 01, 2019

The SugarHouse Casino New Year’s Eve Fireworks on the Waterfront features two major pyrotechnics displays over the Delaware River — one at 6 p.m. and another at midnight. The Blue Cross RiverRink Winterfest gets in on the action too with entertainment, favors, outdoor seating and great views of the fireworks.

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08

SugarHouse Casino Mummers Parade

— Photo by M. Edlow for Visit Philadelphia

Tuesday, January 01, 2019 | 9:00 am

This only-in-Philadelphia New Year’s Day tradition dates back to 1901 and today includes thousands of men, women and children wearing feathers and sequins while dancing to music and parading along Broad Street from Philadelphia City Hall, site of competition among the Comic, Comic Wench and String Band divisions, to Washington Avenue. The indoor Fancy Brigade Finale competition at the Pennsylvania Convention Center consists of Broadway-inspired music-and-dance routines for prizes and bragging rights. phillymummers.com. Tickets for bleacher seating at City Hall and for the Fancy Brigades are available at the Independence Visitor Center.

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09

Terracotta Warriors of the First Emperor at The Franklin Institute

Boy looking at the Terracotta Warriors exhibition at The Franklin Institute Boy looking at the Terracotta Warriors exhibition at The Franklin Institute
— Photo courtesy The Franklin Institute

Through March 4, 2018

In 1974, a farmer digging a well in China struck one of history’s most significant archaeological discoveries: thousands of life-sized warrior sculptures that had been guarding the tomb of China’s first emperor since 210 B.C. Ten of the mysterious structures and 170 related artifacts, including weapons, jade and gold ornaments and ceremonial vessels, are now on display at The Franklin Institute for Terracotta Warriors, an exhibition that examines the story, craft and science behind the terracotta army. Philadelphia is one of just two cities hosting the exhibition.

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10

Museum of the American Revolution

The Museum of the American Revolution exhibits art, manuscripts and printed works as well as a range of objects gathered from and pertaining to the Revolutionary War. — J. Fusco for Visit Philadelphia

Ongoing

The drama unfolds exhibit by exhibit at the brand-new Museum of the American Revolution. Just two blocks from Independence Hall — the command center for the Revolution — the newest addition to America’s most historic square mile documents the strategic wins, crushing losses and world-altering consequences of the war for We the People. Visitors learn stories of well-known and everyday people who experienced the tumult through galleries, engaging films and a collection of Revolutionary-era weapons, personal items, diaries and works of art.

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Army-Navy Game

The Cadets and Midshipmen square off at Lincoln Financial Field for the 118th time this December. — Photo courtesy Lincoln Financial Field

December 9, 2017

The Army Black Knights take on the Navy Midshipmen in this epic collegiate rivalry, now in its 118th year and returning to Lincoln Financial Field.

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12

Winter Fountains on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway

The centerpiece exhibition of Parkway 100 places massive, glowing domes along the Parkway, each fitted with surfaces for video projections inspired by the Parkway's fountains. — Courtesy Association for Public Art

November 30, 2017 – March 2018

The centerpiece exhibition of Parkway 100 is Winter Fountains, made up of four massive outdoor domes set along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway featuring surreal, glowing circular surfaces for video projections inspired by the boulevard’s grand fountains.

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Amazing Holiday Lights Throughout the Region

Many areas in and around Philadelphia transform into spectacular, light-filled sights during the holiday season. — J. Fusco for Visit Philadelphia

Dates vary

The holiday season shines bright in Philadelphia as neighborhoods citywide transform with spectacular decorations. You could easily spend an entire evening (or more) admiring the holiday light displays throughout the region. Click the button below for our guide to holiday lights in Philadelphia.

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14

A Longwood Christmas

Inside and out, Longwood Gardens creates a striking holiday display each year, filled with rich colors, lights and plenty of festively decorated plants. — Photo courtesy Longwood Gardens

November 23, 2017 – January 7, 2018

Thousands of topiaries, wreaths, mirrors and floating cranberries, apples and gilded walnuts transform Longwood Gardens’ heated, four-acre, Versailles-inspired Conservatory, site of free and ticketed holiday performances, during A Longwood Christmas. Outside, 500,000 lights glitter in the trees, and gloriously renovated fountains dance to seasonal music. Fridays through Sundays, Terrace hosts by-reservation breakfasts with Santa.

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15

Christmas in Peddler’s Village

— Photo courtesy Peddler's Village

November 10, 2017 – January 6, 2018

Bucks County’s holiday hub kicks off the moment the Clauses throw the switch on one million lights in the Grand Illumination Celebration (November 17), an event replete with carolers, warm apple cider and roasted marshmallows. Simultaneously, the Village Gazebo hosts a few dozen creations in the annual Gingerbread Competition & Display (November 17 to January 6). The Village Christmas Festival fills a weekend with a pair of Santa parades and Victorian decoration (December 2 to 3).

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Reading Terminal Holiday Railroad at Reading Terminal Market

The Reading Terminal Holiday Railroad features a handful of interactive scenes depicting the history of the Reading Terminal Market, the Reading Railroad and more. — G. Widman for Visit Philadelphia

November 24 – December 24, 2017

Every holiday season, Reading Terminal Market, Philadelphia’s indoor haven for all things food, sets up an impressive holiday railroad display. This year’s all-new display features five magical interactive model train vignettes celebrating the history of the Reading Terminal Market, the Reading Railroad and the joys of the holiday season.

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Other Tree Lighting Celebrations

Tree lighting celebrations all throughout the Philadelphia region add holiday cheer to the season. — Photo by M. Stanley for DRWC

Dates Vary

From Rittenhouse Square to Old City, areas all around town (and the countryside, too) bring a plethora of holiday cheer with brightly lit Christmas trees at their centermost spots. Lighting celebrations kickoff the illuminated fun, where live entertainment, caroling and other festivities often take place to add to the merriment.

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18

Holiday Shopping in Philadelphia

Ongoing

Find something for everyone on your holiday shopping list — and treat yourself as well — at Philadelphia’s awesome retail destinations, creative craft bazaars, special holiday shops, independent boutiques, charming main streets and top-rated shopping malls. You’ll find a ton of amazing deals and holiday specials unfolding all monthlong and, best of all, there’s no sales tax on most wearable goods like clothing (some exceptions apply). Click the button below for our guide to holiday shopping in Philly.

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19

Pennsylvania Ballet Presents George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker

— Photo courtesy Pennsylvania Ballet

December 8-31, 2017 (select dates)

The Pennsylvania Ballet returns to the grand for an elegant (yet kid-friendly) Philadelphia dance tradition. Tchaikovsky’s iconic score pairs with lavish sets, lavish costumes and enchanting performances — by the dancers, members of the Philadelphia Orchestra and Philadelphia Boys Choir. This year’s sensory-friendly performance takes place December 27.

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Holiday Shows and Performances

Put on your dancing shoes, warm up your singing voice and enjoy a few of the best performing arts the city has to offer during the holidays. — Photo courtesy Philly Pops

Dates Vary

Stages both large and small all across the city get into the holiday spirit with special shows throughout the season. Find new twists on old classics, original works and more that close out a wonderful year of performances in Philadelphia.

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21

Adventure Aquarium's Underwater Christmas

— Photo by G. Mattie for Adventure Aquarium

December 1-30, 2017

Marvel at the world’s tallest underwater Christmas tree, which makes its debut at Adventure Aquarium this year. The 18-foot-tall tree, part of the attraction’s Shark Realm, will be illuminated for the first time on Friday, December 1 and will be on display through December 30. Alongside thousands of twinkling lights and colorful shells and coral, visitors will get the chance to see Scuba Santa and his “elfish” helpers swimming beneath the surface and celebrating the season.

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22

Other Great Holiday Events

Celebrate the holidays throughout Philadelphia, including at the Philly Holiday Tree outside City Hall — shown

Ongoing

With pop-up shops, annual celebrations and more holidays lights than you can count, Philadelphia is bursting with things to do and see this holiday season. For even more fun ideas to celebrate the season, browse our guide to the Top Holiday Events by clicking the button below.

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23

The Color Purple at The Forrest Theatre

Don't miss The Color Purple live onstage at The Forrest Theatre this month. — Photo by Matthew Murphy

December 12-17, 2017

Alice Walker’s most famous novel-turned-Tony Award winner for Best Musical Revival, The Color Purple, hits The Forrest Theatre as part of the Kimmel Center’s Broadway Philadelphia series. Catch it during its six-day stint this month.

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24

Must-See Exhibitions

Philadelphia museums — including the Philadelphia Museum of Art — above

Ongoing

An array of awesome exhibitions invite residents and visitors to warm up inside Philly’s many great museums this month. From a photographic display at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art featuring Chuck Close to a sculptural exploration at the Barnes Foundation honoring the 100-year span since Rodin’s death to a mixed-art display with works from five black women artists at the African American Museum in Philadelphia, plenty of arts and culture adventures await for you to take in. Click the button below for our complete guide to must-see exhibitions in Philadelphia this season.

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Coffee and Tea Festival

December 2-3, 2017

The buzz returns every year when the annual Coffee and Tea Festival comes to town. The event, held at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center, offers more than 50 exhibitors to check out, along with tastings, gift bags and much more.

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