The ‘Confluence’: Where Pittsburgh and the holidays come together

photo by WESAI was graciously invited to return to 90.5 WESA’s “The Confluence” program to share my love of Pittsburgh and the holiday season with listeners.

We talked PPG Place gingerbread houses, local artisan markets, walking tours, and, of course Kennywood Park’s Holiday Lights.

I joined Rossilynne Culgan, at The Incline and Katie Blackley, of WESA.

Tune in around the 24-minute mark to hear the interview.


Listen to WESA radio on Nov. 30!

Pittsburgh’s NPR station WESA 90.5 FM has graciously asked me back to share all things Pittsburgh and the holidays!

I’ll be part of a three-person panel during the station’s “Confluence” show that will air live at 9 a.m. Nov. 30. The segment will air sometime in the 9:30 half hour.

You can listen to 90.5 FM in Pittsburgh and from anywhere online . Once you open the website, click/tap the “listen live” option.

Among the topics I hope to talk about include Kennywood Park’s Holiday Lights, Port Authority’s decorated buses and Ts, and all of the sights Downtown!

Walking tours showcase Pittsburgh’s holiday scenes

Pittsburgh is a beautiful city.

Every day. Every type of weather.

But Pittsburgh at the holidays is quite a magical experience.

And while there no longer are grand department stores, Downtown Pittsburgh still offers a lot of holiday fun with lights, gingerbread houses, shopping, trees and more!

It might seem overwhelming to see every tree and holiday display.

Fear not! We’ve got you.

There are two excellent options to discovering all the holiday things in Downtown Pittsburgh.

The Incline’s ‘merry and bright, 9-stop Downtown Pittsburgh holiday walking tour’

First thing’s first: This tour is free.

Rossilynne at The Incline created this perfect holiday walking guide in 2017 to hit up all of the  great stops. She’s updated it for 2018 to reflect changes.

Among the stops she lists includes the Horne’s Tree, PPG Place and the large ornament at the K&L Gates building.

Walk the Burgh’s Holiday Lights Tour

If you want more of a detailed tour that includes history and architecture information, you have to check out the Walk the Burgh Tours daily Holiday Lights Tour.

The roughly two-hour tour takes guests on a holiday loop, checking out lights, decorations and ending with gingerbread houses at PPG Place and Market Square.

Cost is $25 for adults and $20 for children ages 6 to 13. Reservations are requested at least 24 hours in advance as the group cannot guarantee late requests. You’ll also receive a free appetizer coupon to a Downtown restaurant.

The tour meets at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center (1049 Penn Ave, Downtown Pittsburgh, PA 15222).

It’s offered daily at 4 p.m. and will continue through Jan. 13.

It’s not the holidays until we see the Eat’n Park tree!

The little star that could!

Eat’n Park’s popular Christmas commercial has warmed our hearts since 1982.

And every year, Pittsburghers await the first viewing of the iconic ad.

Usually, the commercial first airs during the live telecast of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on WPXI.

Thanks to the internet and social media, we don’t have to wait to watch the spot.

In a 2012 Post-Gazette story celebrating the 30th anniversary of the ad, an Eat’n Park leader said the company receives many emails from people telling them the spot marks the official start of their holiday season.

“When the Eat’n Park commercial comes on the TV and the Horne’s tree goes up, those are the two starting points of Christmas,” Graham Small told the PG.

Read more from Eat’n Park about the story of the popular commercial.

Here are some Pittsburgh-area holiday events you should see

Have yourself a very Pittsburgh Christmas.

There’s so much to do around the Pittsburgh region during the holidays.

Here are some of my favorites … and some of the things still on my Pittsburgh Christmas Bucket List (which isn’t officially a thing yet, but totally should be).

Handmade Arcade: This is said to be Pittsburgh’s largest independent craft fair. It’s set for Dec. 8.

Kennywood Park’s Holiday Lights: It’s a Pittsburgh tradition your family and friends will love! What can beat Potato Patch fries inside Kennywood at the holiday season?

Steubenville Nutcracker Village and Advent Market: Walk through a village of hand-painted nutcracker! Plus, there is a holiday market. It’s not far from Pittsburgh at all.

Holiday Market at Market Square: Downtown Pittsburgh’s public square turns into Christkindlmarkts. Vendors, food, music, plus a lot of lights fill the area. You’ll want to check out Linda Barnicott, Pittsburgh Pottery and JP Driscoll Photography — just a few of my favorite vendors there!

PPG Place: From gingerbread houses to a display of Santas from around the world, you’ll want to add this to your Downtown Pittsburgh trip to Market Square. There’s live music and horse-drawn carriage rides, too. Oh, and did I mention the ice rink at PPG Place is much larger (try twice the size) of Rockefeller Center in NYC.

Carnegie Trees and Presepio: Ever been to the Carnegie Museum of Art’s “exquisite Italian nativity scene” and Christmas Tree display? The 18th-century Neapolitan nativity scene is a rare piece in the United States. This year’s theme is a first of its kind for the annual event — a collaboration with 57th Carnegie International artist Karen Kilimnik.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s ‘The Nutcracker’: This version of “The Nutcracker” offers some Pittsburgh landmarks. It runs through most of December.

Have a favorite thing to do each holiday season around the Pittsburgh region? Share it in the comments (and be sure to provide a link if one is available).

Kennywood’s Holiday Lights is Pittsburgh’s newest tradition

Kennywood Park’s Holiday Lights

Bobby Cherry

You’ve soared high on the Phantom, splashed down on the Log Jammer (RIP!) and rode the Thunderbolt at night.

But if you haven’t visited Kennywood Park’s Holiday Lights event, you’re missing one of Pittsburgh’s best new holiday traditions!

Kennywood is open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from Nov. 23 through Dec. 23. And, Holiday Lights will be open Dec. 26 through Dec. 30. Operating hours for each night are 5-9 p.m. They also offer dinner with Santa on Dec. 1, 2, 8, 9, 15, 16, 22 and 23. Dinner is a separate cost and held before the park opens.

Cost for Holiday Lights is $19.99 at the gate (plus a $1 West Mifflin amusement tax). Children under 3 are free. But purchase your tickets online and save a few dollars. There’s a Holiday Lights season pass for less than the cost of two tickets.

And certain summer season passes are eligible for free entry on some nights. Check the park website for details.

The park celebrates the holidays with more than 2 million (!!) lights, including a dazzling twinkling lights show synchronized to a great holiday music playlist.

Santa is available for photos at the Racer station. You actually sit with Santa in a roller coaster car with a festive background! I purchased the photo with me and Kenny Kangaroo a few years back, and it hangs on my tree every year!

You’ll also find a massive train display inside the Penny Arcade, along with a small display from the Jimmy Stewart Museum. Parkside Cafe features an area for kids to decorate cookies, and they also sell soups and desserts.

Yes, there are rides open.  The park’s website says that, weather depending, guests can find these rides likely operating: 4-D Theater, showing The Polar Express 4-D Experience; Auto Race; Journey with Thomas (it’s the Olde Kennywood Railroad ride); Ghostwood Estate (turned Christmassy); Kangaroo; Merry-Go-Round; Noah’s Ark; Paratrooper; Pirate; and up to 10 rides in Kiddieland.

Every night at 5:45 p.m., they light Pennsylvania’s tallest artificial Christmas tree.

Kennyville Stage activities include a magic show, Parker’s Dance Party (Parker is Kennywood’s arrow mascot, and it’s joined by mascots from sister parks: Sandcastle, Idlewild’s Ricky Raccoon and Duke from Dutch Wonderland).

Plus, most nights, the park has a celebrity guest read “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.” Here’s the list. Rick Sebak is scheduled to be there Dec. 21.

At the Garden Stage (where the old Mon Monster used to be, and near the Pagoda), the park offers local performing groups (mostly schools). Here is the list through Dec. 8, and here is the list from Dec. 9-23.

Holiday Lights is sure to become a tradition for you and your family and friends!

And as a stocking stuffer … you get to see construction of the park’s new Steel Curtain coaster!

Baby, it’s cold outside … so let’s drink? Study says we drink more in winter

As Straight No Chaser sings … who spiked the eggnog?

Think you drink more during the winter?

A study out of the University of Pittsburgh says you do.

Colder climates apparently contribute to a higher occurrence of binge drinking and liver disease, Elle magazine reported, citing the study.

That warm and toasty feeling you get after throwing back a few relaxes the blood vessels and increases the flow of warm blood to the skin.

And because of that, people tend to want to drink more alcohol in the winter.

Of course, it might also be due to the fact that we tend to be around family more during the holidays.