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Happy holidays, Pittsburghers!

Welcome to this very special Pittsburgh Light Up Night edition of Inside Pittsburgh. Today’s newsletter offers a massive list of awesome holiday things you need to check out over the next several weeks.

My love for Christmas and the holiday season runs deep. So much so that I created It’s Christmas 365 – a site and Facebook page (get on the “Nice List” by giving it a like!) dedicated to celebrating the holidays.

I geeked early this morning when I discovered that 94.5 3WS and Wish 99.7 flipped to Christmas music – though, I’ve been listening to Christmas music for a long, long time thanks to iHeartRadio's iHeart Christmas streaming channel.

Without further ado, here is my look at some amazing holiday adventures that make for great traditions with family and friends. And I should note that I am certain I forgot or don’t know about many events. Let me know if there’s an event you love that I’ve missed.

Hit me up on Twitter and Instagram if you have questions or want some personalized tips for making your holiday happenings merry and bright!

– Bobby

1. I’ll start with the grand event of them all in Pittsburgh: Light Up Night. Today is Light Up Night. And it’s not too late to make your plans. In fact, on my It’s Christmas 365 post, I offered my tips for making the most of Light Up Night. Most people don’t realize this, but Light Up Night technically began as a celebration for the Pittsburgh Pirates and was first held in April 1959. The Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership (the nonprofit organization that puts on Light Up Night) incorrectly refers to it as an annual event, but Light Up Night took a nine-year break beginning in 1973 to conserve energy. It was brought back to boost morale in the early ‘80s as the steel industry collapse began taking hold. And, as you might know, Light Up Night was used as a way to get shoppers into Downtown department stores to see the decorated windows, Santa and, of course, to shop.

There are tree lightings and other ceremonies that begin as early as noon with the creche at the U.S. Steel Tower and continue through to the Fireworks Finale at 9:30 p.m. Don’t forget about Entercom Radio’s Santa Spectacular at Point State Park, too. That includes a fireworks show around 7:30 p.m. There also is a fireworks display around 7 p.m. on the roof of the old Horne’s store when that iconic tree is lit. (Take a look at this old photo of the Horne’s tree – it’s definitely had a glow up.)  The full list of events is here.

2. There’s always too much to do on Light Up Night, so I plan what I call a “Holiday Day” (or a few of these) with friends to take in other Pittsburgh events and activities. What else is there to do? You can combine a number of these events into a joyful day!

  • The Holiday Market at Market Square kicks off on Light Up Night and continues daily through Dec. 23. It includes a number of artisans (many of whom are local) offering an array of items that are perfect for gifts. Other activities at Market Square include karaoke, the lights synced to music and, of course, Santa.
  • The Carnegie Science Center’s Miniature Railroad & Village exhibit is a must-do. This year, the original Downtown Kaufmann’s Department Store – known as the Grand Depot – was added. You won’t recognize the building or the clock, but it’s certainly a nod to Pittsburgh’s history. The science center offers holiday laser light shows and a number of holiday films at Rangos Giant Cinema.
  • The Heinz History Center’s “A Very Merry Pittsburgh” exhibit features a look at past Christmases with items ranging from old Downtown department store window displays to retro toys and vintage newspaper ads. Plus, the exhibit explains every holiday celebrated around this time of year.
  • The adorable gingerbread displays were gentrified this year. Highwood Properties – the company that manages PPG Place – booted the displays from the Wintergarden. So the City of Pittsburgh stepped in to save the competition, which now can be found in the Grand Lobby of the City-County Building on Grant Street. PPG Place’s Santas display also was bumped to the lobbies of One PPG and Two PPG. But you still can ice skate at the PPG Place rink.
  • I never miss watching the annual WPXI Holiday Parade, which is held the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Ever since I was a kid, my favorite part is waiting for anchor David Johnson to do his Yogi Bear impression.
  • The Incline rounded up several artisan markets planned for the holidays, including Handmade Arcade, Queer Craft Market and I Made It! Last Minute Market.
  • Don’t forget Holiday Magic at Phipps Conservatory, which always features gorgeous displays among greenery and other plants.
  • The holidays inside the Nationality Rooms at the Cathedral of Learning at Pitt always are a great visit for the family.
  • A Gilded Age Christmas: Holiday Traditions at the Frick Pittsburgh is an event I’ve wanted to see but haven’t been to. It’s on my list this year.
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3. What goes better than Christmas lights, hot chocolate and Potato Patch fries? Not much. Kennywood Park’s Holiday Lights event features about 2 million lights, the state’s largest Christmas tree, local choirs and more. Each night of the event, which begins Nov. 22, includes a Pittsburgh “celebrity” reading “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.” Among those who usually participate are Sally Wiggin and Rick Sebak. The 4D theater will show “Rudolph” this year. While the park’s coasters aren’t running, a number of other rides are operating, including the Merry-Go-Round and Kangaroo.

And, if you’re wondering, Kennywood spokesperson Nick Paradise told PGH Museums that the park runs about 12 miles of power cords (enough to go from Kennywood to Heinz Field). Holiday Lights has quickly become one of my absolute must-do holiday season events. The magic of Christmas comes alive with this event.

4. About an hour north of Pittsburgh is a Christmas wonderland not to be missed. Tucked into the Kraynak’s Lawn and Garden Center in Hermitage is Kraynak’s Christmasland. The 300-foot-long indoor walk-through features several holiday-themed displays decorated with animated figures and Christmas trees. The display, now several decades old, is changed annually (and also features an Easter display). I visited the display two weekends ago and could have spent hours taking in the detailed designs. The scenes range from whimsical to local and religious (a lot of visitors like being surprised, so I don’t want to spoil the displays, but tap here to see some pics I took). The Christmasland is inside the middle of a massive store with multiple rooms filled with holiday decorations – just about anything you can think of is available to buy. Plus, children can get their photo taken with Santa. Of course, if you’re heading up to Kraynak’s, also make a stop at Daffin's Candies, Wendell August Forge and the Grove City outlets.

I should note that if you’re taking small children (or cranky adults), plan ahead. It can get crowded and you can do a lot of walking – and standing – if you want to cover every inch of the store.

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5. One of my favorite things to do is drive around looking at Christmas lights. There are a number of neighborhoods that look like Clark Griswold lives there: a man in Ambridge decorates his modest-size home with 20,000 lights; a Moon neighborhood offers its own Light Up Night, complete with a decorating competition; the Dojonovic family in Plum features hundreds of wood-carved characters on display. If you get a chance to drive through Edgeworth (near Sewickley) on Christmas Eve, many neighbors place luminaria along the sidewalks to give the neighborhood a welcoming holiday feel.

There are also a number of other professional light displays to take experience:

  • There’s a new holiday event in town this year called Lumaze. The event – at 31st Street Studios in the Strip District – is said to be among the world's largest indoor Christmas festivals with multiple locations around the world (mostly in Canada) – and only two locations in the United States: Seattle and Pittsburgh. The festival opens Nov. 23 and promises to offer a “fairytale Christmas.” There are more than 1 million lights and 100,000 square feet of lighted structures. Tickets range from $16.99 to $22.99 for individual tickets; season passes also are offered. WTAE posted a sneak peek at what’s in store for visitors to this festival. Admittedly, I don’t know much about it, so I am excited to see what’s inside. If you have plans to go, let me know!
  • Shadrack’s Christmas Wonderland at the Butler County Fairgrounds
  • Christmas Light Up Celebration in Findlay Township
  • Oglebay Winter Festival of Lights in Wheeling, West Virginia
  • Overly’s Country Christmas in Westmoreland County

6. There’s a growing population of giant nutcrackers in Steubenville. The Steubenville Nutcracker Village & Advent Market features nearly 200 “life-size” nutcrackers in and near Fort Steuben Park. Visitors can stroll the nutcrackers, which are sponsored by groups and businesses and each individually painted, and then wander through the open-air Advent Market that features local artisans and vendors (similar to Pittsburgh’s Holiday Market). New this year is the Gingerbread Village.

7. In what is a personal travesty for someone like me who loves Christmas, I have not yet been to Castle Noel – dubbed the largest indoor Christmas experience in the country. It’s in Medina, Ohio, and is said to offer the “world’s largest privately owned collection of Hollywood Christmas movie props and costumes” – including items from “Elf”; “The Santa Clause” series (1, 2 and 3); “Jingle All The Way”; and more. This place even features many old window displays from Macy’s in New York, Kaufmann’s, Lord & Taylor, Sak’s Fifth Avenue and more. Castle Noel was featured in a 2018 edition of WTAE's "Chronicle" show – you can watch that episode here.

8. Part of what makes the holiday season great is music, and there is no shortage of concerts and live stage shows. The concert to get to is “Feel The Love,” which is a tribute to the life of musician B.E. Taylor. This year will mark the final year for the holiday concert series. Here’s a look at some others:

9. Train displays are as much a part of the holidays as Christmas trees. Western Pennsylvania and areas nearby have a number of great displays. They each feature a glimpse (or a dream?) of what life looked like when rails, not roads, ruled the land. But be sure to check each group’s information because not all shows run through Christmas.

10. And finally, Pittsburgh’s First Night. I usually ring in the new year simultaneously watching KDKA’s coverage of Pittsburgh’s celebration and CNN’s crazy live coverage of Times Square. But First Night has traditionally offered a sort of Light Up Night feel for celebrating the new year. Buying a $10 button gets you access to more than 100 different events Downtown on New Year’s Eve. And, as you might know, Pittsburgh rings in the new year with the Future of Pittsburgh Ball – a ball that rises.

Bobby Cherry is a senior editor at Inside.com and Pittsburgh-based freelance journalist. Follow his love of all things Pittsburgh and more on Twitter and Instagram. He also shares his love of the holiday season at ItsChristmas365.com.

Editor: Kim Lyons, Inside Managing Editor and Pittsburgh-based freelance journalist.

Live look at me now through the end of December:

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