December brings a joyous season of gift giving, carol singing, tree trimming, candle lighting, ugly sweater wearing, and loads of winter fun. No matter how you choose to get into the holiday spirit, you can enjoy festivities of all kinds throughout Philadelphia.
Take a step back in time during “A Very Philly Christmas” at the Historic Houses of Fairmount Park. On Dec. 14, the Fairmount Park Conservancy presents a day of festive music at Laurel Hill Mansion, Lemon Hill Mansion, and four other storied homes that preserve the look and feel of 18th- and early 19th-century America. On Dec. 15, the homes offer creative activities and workshops for children and adults, including demonstrations by local artists and designers.
If you’re looking for a merry time without having to open your wallet, head to one of the city’s many free Christmas-themed events. Every night in December, the “Deck the Hall Light Show” projects dazzling imagery onto the façade of City Hall. You can watch the display between 5:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. from Dilworth Park (1 S. 15th St.). “The Christmas Light Show” at Macy’s Center City (1300 Market St., 215.241.9000) offers another beloved seasonal happening, with a show that takes place every two hours and incorporates more than 100,000 LED lights and music from the famous Wannamaker Organ. Afterward, stop by “Dickens’ Village,” a walk-through experience with figurines that tell the story of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”
The Jewish Festival of Lights begins at sundown on December 22, and you can help ring in the eight-day holiday in Rittenhouse Square (18th and Walnut streets) with the lighting of a giant menorah, which remains in the park through December 30. This community event is open to everyone who wants to have a great time and learn about the meaning behind the ceremony.
The menorah might be the most iconic element of Chanukah, but there’s another popular—and delicious—way to celebrate. Because the holiday commemorates one day’s worth of oil staying lit for eight days, it’s a tradition to eat fried foods. This year, Philadelphia’s hometown Federal Donuts brings back its mini glazed doughnuts with raspberry jam, which are available in boxes of 15 during Chanukah. These sufganiyot are available by pre-order only, so be sure to plan your sweet feast in advance.
The weeklong celebration of Kwanzaa starts on December 26, and you can take part in the festivities at the African American Museum of Philadelphia (701 Arch St., 215.574.0380). From a kinara-lighting ceremony to special performances to artistic displays, the museum honors African culture in a variety of interactive ways through December 30. To truly get into the spirit, dress in the colors of the African Liberation flag: red, black and green. You won’t be alone when you don your holiday attire. Boathouse Row (1 Boathouse Row) is scheduled to light up in red, black and green during Kwanzaa. An opening-night ceremony is slated for December 26.
Why choose just one holiday when you can celebrate them all? Chanukah, Christmas and New Year’s Eve are just a few of the events featured in “Cirque Dreams: Holidaze” at the Merriam Theater (250 S. Broad St., 215.893.1999) December 26-30. This show combines the best of Broadway and circus arts into a two-hour extravaganza of elaborate costumes, original music, high-flying acrobatics, and top-notch talent inspired by the season.
While it takes place at the National Museum of American Jewish History (101 S. Independence Mall East, 215.923.3811), the annual “Being __ at Christmas” event appeals to anyone who wants an alternative to observing Christmas. The day-long family-friendly party on December 25 invites participants to partake in arts and crafts, musical demonstrations and more. Keep an eye out for Ruth Bader Ginsburg-themed fun to coincide with the museum’s current exhibition dedicated to the prolific Supreme Court justice.