Updated: Nov 23, 2021
There are lots of FREE ways to enjoy the sights and sounds of the holiday season, including a new holiday parade, menorah and tree lightings and musical performances.
Here are some of the free holiday events in Philadelphia and the suburbs to celebrate Christmas, Chanukah and Kwanzaa.
Visit Philadelphia Holiday Parade - You won't want to miss Philadelphia's all new holiday parade celebrating all of the winter holidays including Chanukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day and the Chinese New Year on December 4. Highlights include cold-air balloons, marching bands, floats and dancers who will start at 2nd and Market streets at 5 p.m. and continue west, arriving at City Hall at approximately 6:30 p.m. Tip: Wawa will be giving out free hot chocolate and coffee on Market between 2nd and 3rd streets.
Reading Terminal Market - A horse and carriage will deliver Santa to Reading Terminal Market at 10 a.m. on December 18. He'll be there until 2 p.m. so children will have a chance to meet him, pose for pictures and write a letter to the North Pole. A Kwanzaa celebration is planned for December 26-30.
Franklin Square - This year the Electrical Spectacle Light Show is the biggest yet -- with more than 150,000 lights choreographed to holiday music. The free light show illuminates the Square every night starting at 5 p.m. and continuing every 30 minutes. Adding to the festivities are two playgrounds and individual fire pits. Note: There are also paid attractions including an old-fashioned carousel, Chilly Philly mini golf featuring mini Philadelphia icons decorated for the holidays and food/drink vendors. Tip: On December 4, the Old City Jewish Arts Center will be giving away dreidels (while supplies last) at 6 p.m. Stay tuned for information about Santa Saturdays, a Kwanzaa Celebration with the African American Museum in Philadelphia and a family-oriented New Year’s Eve celebration.
Betsy Ross House - The Betsy Ross House will host a community menorah lighting ceremony with the Old City Jewish Arts Center at 4:30 p.m. on November 28. The Old City Holiday Tree Lighting is scheduled for December 1 at 6:30 p.m.
Holidays on the Hill - One of the best times to window shop along charming Germantown Avenue in Chestnut Hill is on a Wednesday evening in December, when the community holds its annual Stag & Doe Nights. You may spot Santa strolling the avenue, hear a brass quartet or see other live performances. On December 8 & 22 there will be a horse-drawn carriage and on December 15 Shackelford Choreography will put on a brief ballet performance in front of the Wells Fargo Bank at 6:30 p.m. At 9 a.m. on December 18 there will be a holiday parade from Top of the Hill to Market at the Fareway. Tip: Look for free parking on Wednesdays in the Chestnut Hill Parking Foundation's six public lots.
Deck the Hall Light Show - Don’t miss the free holiday light show projected on the west side of City Hall from November 22 through January 1. The delightful show animates the building’s historic architecture and sculptures. It plays on a non-stop loop throughout the evening. Then walk through the Wintergarden with its twinkling lights and festive topiaries. Note: The rides, the holiday market, ice skating and food/drink are not free. Tip: Don’t forget to snap a photo of the massive tree on the north side of City Hall. The 50-foot tree will be lit with more than 4,000 lights on December 2 at 7 p.m.
Christmas Village and the Philadelphia Holiday Market - This annual holiday festival modeled after traditional Christmas villages in Germany will return to Love Park and around City Hall starting on Thanksgiving and run through Christmas Eve. The sights and sounds of the holiday - with tens of thousands of glimmering lights, festive decorations and live music and dance performances every night - are all free. Food, drink, rides and shops are not free, of course.
Comcast Holiday Spectacular - This 15-minute, family-friendly show in the Comcast Center is indeed spectacular with holiday songs and sights including a performance by the Pennsylvania Ballet. It starts on the top of every hour from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. from Thanksgiving through New Year's. There are sensory-friendly performances on Thursdays and Fridays at 230 p.m. and upon request. Tip: While you're there, cross the street to see the Universal Sphere Show in the Comcast Technology Tower. The free cinematic experience explores the power of ideas. Reservations encouraged.
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West Chester Griswolds - The city doesn’t have a lock on amazing Christmas displays. This display is the Plummer family’s nod to the National Lampoon movie. They say you can see the display, with computer-controlled lights, from outer space. Tip: There’s a mailbox for letters to Santa.
American Heritage Credit Union Drive Through Grand Illumination - This Northeast Philly credit union has created a holiday attraction featuring two 40-foot-tall trees and over 40,000 lights. The festivities begin with a kick-off event on November 27 complete with fireworks and a holiday concert featuring the Philadelphia Boys Choir and the Fifes and Drums of the Old Barracks.
South Philadelphia: South Smedley Street & Miracle on 13th Street -- These two neighborhood displays are as good as (if not better than) professional holiday displays. The light show on South Smedley Street, a looped street connecting Moyamensing and Oregon, between 16th & 17th, is a real community effort. The neighbors have been decorating for more than 55 years. The display has become especially elaborate in the last 20 years with lights, inflatables and a creche. It’s so over-the-top that you’ll likely be tempted to go around the circle twice just to take it all in - once looking at the houses on the outer ring and then again taking in the display in the grassy area in the middle. The other big neighborhood light display in the area is dubbed "Miracle on 13th Street." The houses on South 13th Street between Tasker and Morris have been going all out for the holidays for 20 years. It’s like Christmas on steroids and every year it gets bigger and better. The block is lit from 5 pm until midnight. Both shows start the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Tip: Be prepared for traffic, especially on weekends.
Parade of Lights - A fleet of boats covered in holiday lights and decorations will parade along the Delaware River on December 4. The boat parade can be enjoyed at many places along the Delaware River. There is a viewing area, activities and food/drink at the Independence Seaport Museum (not free).
Chanukah in Doylestown - To find Temple Judea's community Chanukah celebration look for the giant dreidel on the corner of Hamilton and State streets in Doylestown. The event, which will include singing, crafts and treats, will be held from 1 to 3 p.m. on December 5.
Holidays in the Village - Peddler’s Village is especially festive this time of year with one million lights adorning its buildings and trees. The free gingerbread competition returns this year with more than 125 entrees. The gingerbread display will be in the Red Barn on Street Road.
Macy’s Light Show - The free light show at Macy's features 100,000 lights, dancing snowmen and twinkling snowflakes. The show is narrated by Julie Andrews and accompanied by the Wanamaker organ. From December 1 through 24, there are performances daily at 10:30 a.m and from December 26 to 31, there are performances at 11:30 a.m. Before or after the show, tour the vintage Dickens’ Village where animated dolls in a 6,000-square-foot set retell A Christmas Carol. Dickens Village is free, but reservations are needed.
St. David's Episcopal Church Christmas Market and Tree Lighting - St. David's Episcopal Church in Wayne will hold a festive holiday celebration on December 3 from 5 to 8:30 p.m. Stroll through a Christmas wonderland of decorated trees and flickering luminaries in St. David’s historic churchyard and enjoy a tree lighting, live nativity, visit from Santa, carol singing and more.
Haddonfield Tree Lighting -- Haddonfield, NJ will hold its annual tree lighting ceremony on November 26 at 6:30 p.m. at Liberty Point. It will be followed by a parade to Kings Court. Highlights include a visit by Santa and holiday entertainment. Candlelight Shopping events will be held along the quaint commercial avenue on December 3, 10, 11 and 23. The shopping is not free, of course, but there will be visits from Santa, carriage rides, festive decor and entertainment.
Tis the Season to Love Collingswood - There's a lot to love in Collingswood, NJ during the holidays. The celebration starts with a tree lighting ceremony featuring Santa descending from atop the Borough Hall by way of a fire truck ladder, choral groups and ice carving on November 26 at 7 p.m. The next morning at 10 a.m. brings one of the largest parades in South Jersey with marching bands, mascots, mummers, classic cars and more. On December 2, a menorah lighting will be held at 6 p.m. at Collings and N. Atlantic Avenue. Every weekend after that is packed with activities including visits from Santa (including a sensory-friendly day on December 12), caroling, and performances. Tip: Watch for free parking.
Souderton Tree Lighting and Holiday Parade - The annual tree lighting ceremony kicking off Souderton’s holiday season will be held on December 3. The free, family-oriented event will include entertainment and a visit from Santa. The following morning at 11 a.m., Santa will be back for a holiday parade down North Main and East Broad streets.
Boathouse Row Festival of Lights - Philadelphia’s iconic Boathouse will be lit for Chanukah from November 29-December 6; for Christmas on December 20-25 and for Kwanzaa on December 26-January 1. Tip: For great views, go to the Fairmount Water Works or the platform above the Fairmount Fish Ladder on the Schuylkill River Trail just off Martin Luther King, Jr.
Rittenhouse Square - Holiday festivities will kick off with a menorah lighting on December 1 at 5:15 p.m. and a tree lighting on December 6 at 6:30 p.m. The Square looks beautiful this time of year with the giant menorah, 30-foot tree and big white globes hanging from the trees. Tip: After enjoying Rittenhouse Square, head south to the 1700 and 1800 blocks of Addison Street. The trees arching over the little street are draped in white lights. It’s decorated like this year-round, but if you’re nearby catching the holiday lights, it’s a worthwhile detour. It’s one of the most Instagrammable spots in the city.
East Market, the area encompassing the block between Market and Chestnut streets, 11th & 12th, will transform itself into a winter wonderland with hundreds of LED lights and a 35-foot tree creating a synchronized, animated light show. Watch for live music and seasonal giveaways on Thursdays through Sundays in December.
Old York Road Community Chanukah Lighting -- A festive candle lighting will be held at the Baederwood Shoppes on the Fairway in Jenkintown on November 30 at 5 p.m. Cantors from local synagogues will light up the night with Chanukah songs. The rain date is December 1. Gifts for children and adults who register before November 28.
Christmas in Wayne - The Wayne Business Association will launch the season with a full weekend of activities. On December 3 there will be strolling carolers and carriage rides starting at 5:30 p.m. Santa will arrive at the Wayne Train Station and the tree will be lit at 7:30 p.m. The next morning at 10 a.m. there's a parade featuring Santa atop a fire truck and the the RHS marching band. That will be followed by photos on the veranda of the Rosalie at the Wayne Hotel. On December 5, Santa will be back for the Radnor Historical Society Christmas at the Finley House with caroling, hot chocolate and more.
Headhouse Shambles Menorah Lighting - Local religious leaders will light the menorah and conduct a brief service on November 30 at 4:45 p.m. at South 2nd and Pine streets.
You don't have to spend a lot to enjoy the sights and sounds of the holiday season and create happy holiday memories in Philadelphia and the suburbs.
by Irene Levy Baker, author, 100 Things To Do In Philadelphia and Unique Eats & Eateries of Philadelphia. Need gifts? Planning a staycation? Visit www.100ThingsToDoInPhiladelphia.com for signed books. For free shipping, use promo code TheCityPulse.
Click here for more blog postings by Irene Levy Baker including a list of restaurants with heated outside dining, restaurants serving Thanksgiving dinner, only-in-Philadelphia exhibits and more.