A Very Merry Sewickley

‘Twas a week before Christmas and all through the town,
Shoppers trekked through stores and wouldn’t let the rain get them down.

I spent a little bit of time in Sewickley on Sunday afternoon, taking in the beautiful window displays and shops — despite some rain and less than seasonable weather (it was too warm!).

On select days throughout the month, festive music plays over loudspeakers, Santa sits at the town gazebo and visitors can take a horse-drawn carriage around the block.

My first stop was into House 15143, which looks more like somewhere I want to live than a store. The beautifully designed windows could pull even the Grinch into the holiday spirit. But the festive feelings don’t end there.

Inside, the shop is filled with so many wonderful accents. Their decorations offer such a vintage Christmas feel — with old-school blow mold candles, very welcoming Santa faces and so much more.

There were so many ornaments and decorations I wanted that it was hard to limit myself!

I also visited Gather and found myself in a similar situation — trying very hard to not buy everything!

Many businesses in the town have beautifully designed windows, too.

Take a look at the gallery below. House 15143 was, by far, my favorite. But Consign Sewickley, Gather and Pizza Roma all had windows that just stood out to me.

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The Great Downtown Pittsburgh Holiday Walking Journey!

Thousands of steps and a soaked hoodie later, I saw all of the holiday things in Downtown Pittsburgh.

Inspired by The Incline’s nine-stop holiday walking tour, two friends and I set out on our adventure on Dec. 1.

Light blue highlights walking. We also went to the Penguins game.

A constant rain and tickets to the Pens game changed our walking course, which, according to my Google Maps timeline, looks more like a wayward drunk than a holiday decoration seeker!

But we saw it all and then some!

We started our tour with a quick stop into Prantl’s Bakery on Market Street for some classic Pittsburgh thumbprints and some free smells of delicious treats.

Fifth Avenue Place

From there, we headed into Fifth Avenue Place to check out the Arcade Shops.

This site once was home of Jenkins Arcade, which, along with the Horne’s Department Store, helped to anchor one end of Pittsburgh’s then-vibrant retail corridor.

The multi-level center connected to Horne’s and had a myriad of shops and eateries over the years. Jenkins was torn down in 1984 and replaced with Fifth Avenue Place.

The retail portion of Fifth Avenue Place offers a few stores, including Dave DiCello’s photography gallery, Katie’s Kandy, a Hallmark store and food court.

But the headliner is the Welcome Pittsburgh store, which doubles as a visitor information center and retail shop.

The place has a plethora of Pittsburgh gifts — from local artisans to DVDs, games, books and so much more. The staff is extremely help (and also very knowledgeable about the city and region).

If you’re looking for a Pittsburgh gift, go there!

We spotted our first tree of the day inside Fifth Avenue Place.

The tree isn’t particularly wide, but its height allows for a great view from the second floor.

 

 

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While you’re in Fifth Avenue Place, check out the couple of great window displays. This is Pittsburgh’s first holiday season without any storefront holiday windows. So finding a few in Fifth Avenue Place was a special treat!

Point State Park

After walking through Fifth Avenue Place, we went toward the confluence to take a selfie with the tree at Point State Park. I’d already figured the view wouldn’t be terrific since it was daylight and raining.

But because of the weather and the muddy field, we opted to not get close to the tree.

The dumpster at the tree doesn’t necessarily make for a good daytime view, but nonetheless, we checked off this tree!

The views of this tree from Heinz Field, Mount Washington and parts of the South Side are great. It also makes for some great selfies up close and personal.

Horne’s Tree

Next up, we took a stroll to the old Horne’s building to take in the beautiful sights of what I think is Pittsburgh’s most iconic tree.

Now referred to as the Unity tree, the Horne’s Tree was part of the department store’s holiday tradition for decades until Horne’s closed its iconic location in the early 1990s. Highmark has continued this special Pittsburgh tradition.

The tree is part of this website’s banner image, and also makes appearances in at least one Hallmark Channel Christmas movie.

Market Square

After the Horne’s tree, we diverted to Market Square to check out the Holiday Market at Market Square. The square offers a variety of artisans and vendors — many of which are from the Pittsburgh region.

The 2018 market includes artisans such as Pittsburgh artist Linda Barnicott, local photographer J.P. Driscoll, Monmade, Pittsburgh Pottery and many others.

Along with the open-air shops, the event offers music and entertainment, too. The event is open daily through Dec. 23. It is not open Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

And, of course, there is a tree at Market Square!

PPG Place

Following our trip through Market Square, we took a stroll over to PPG Place to see the tree, rink and gingerbread houses inside the Wintergarden.

The rink at PPG Place is actually larger than the one at Rockefeller Center in New York City. Pretty cool, eh?

Inside, gingerbread houses created mostly by students in area schools dot the Wintergarden. Winning creations typically are placed in the center underneath a large tree.

A collection of life-size Santas from around the world also are part of this magical wonderland.

 

 

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Local musicians perform throughout the holiday season inside the Wintergarden as well.

The Giant Red Ornament

After PPG Place, our journey took us to the giant ornament outside of K&L Gates Center.

I’m not sure how long this ornament has been here, but it’s certainly fun! (There are giant clusters of similar ornaments in NYC, and also giant Christmas lights, that I want to see one day!)

Smithfield Street

After our trek for a quick photo with the giant ornament, we set our sights toward Smithfield Street. At one time, Pittsburgh’s retail mecca included a massive corridor along Smithfield Street.

The days of a vibrant Downtown shopping district are long gone, but there still are great local shops — new and old — to explore.

The first stop we made was to Steel City Clothing (625 Smithfield St). Check them out for some pretty rad Pittsburgh designs, including my current favorite T-shirt: “Wish Yinz a Merry Christmas.”

After, Steel City Clothing, we walked over to S.W. Randall Toyes and Giftes (630 Smithfield St).

The classic store bills itself as Pittsburgh’s “largest and oldest speciality toy store.” And with three floors of toys, it’s safe to say that’s accurate.

My friends seemed a little skeptical at first, but after a few minutes inside, I think they began to enjoy it.

If you’ve never been, take a gander inside. The store certainly has that classic locally-owned shop feel — from the display cases to the steps up to each floor.

While the shop doesn’t seem to sell video game systems, it’s full of popular toys such as Lego sets, Barbie dolls, new board games and more. Plus, there is a very great collection of trinkets, gifts, collectibles, Funko pops, Christmas village sets, trains, dolls and so much more.

There were several things I found that I’d like to buy for the holidays and afterward. Also, if you’re someone who enjoys model trains, they’ve got so many items to choose from!

By the way, S.W. Randall has three brick and mortar locations — Downtown Pittsburgh, Shadyside and Squirrel Hill — and an expansive online store.

PPG Paints Arena

From there, our holiday excursion paused so that a friend and I could get to the Penguins game.

And, yes, we found trees!

Creche

But after the Pens game, we walked to the to the creche at Steel Plaza (600 Grant St). It is the only authorized replica of the creche at St. Peter’s Square in Rome, Italy.

It has been on display each holiday season since the late 1990s in Pittsburgh. A smaller nativity scene was displayed on public property. But local government leaders sought to find a permanent and private space for it.

There also is a menorah on site.

City-County Building Tree

This gigantic tree was our last official stop on the day of Downtown Pittsburgh holiday decorations journey!

There is so much to love about this tree.

The black and gold bridge ornaments that celebrate Pittsburgh’s 200th anniversary of the city’s founding. They identify each of the 90 neighborhoods.

 

 

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There are the Wendell August ornaments.

There is good ol’ David Lawrence keeping watch on the tree.

But. The best part is the illuminated portico with music playing around the tree. It’s such a serene setting.

I like going at night, when it’s dark and mostly empty.

There’s also a menorah on display.

But wait! There’s more!

Oxford Centre

There is a beautifully lit tree in the atrium of Oxford Centre. We took a quick stroll over to view it from above before walking back to where we parked near Market Square.

There’s not much in the retail area of Oxford Centre these days, but if you get a chance, swing by the tree to see it in person!

 

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!

Have yourself a very merry Sewickley!

In the little town of Sewickley, business owners and residents have kicked off the holiday season for years with a Light Up Night and Santa Parade.

And those events continue this year under the rebranded A Very Merry Sewickley, which includes several events to get you in that festive spirit!

Light Up Night is set for Nov. 30. It takes place on Beaver and Broad streets in the town’s little business district. There’s music, food, lights and more! The event is held from 5-9.

As someone who has gone to Sewickley Light Up Night for several years, here are some very important tips:

  • Get there early. Parking and traffic can be a Grinch. Heritage Valley Sewickley hospital usually offers free parking in the garage. And if you don’t mind a short walk through residential areas, there is plenty of parking to be found.
  • If the weather is decent, the event will be packed. I’ve been there with probably 7,000 or 8,000 people some years. Other years, maybe 2,000. Just depends on the weather!

Other Sewickley events:

  • Santa Parade: 10:30 a.m. Dec. 1
  • Sundays in Sewickley: Dec. 2, 9, 16, 23

Find more details on this Facebook event page.

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!

Check out Pittsburgh’s own Polar Express

Port Authority’s Twitter page

“Take a bus, take a train” are lyrics in Canonsburg native Perry Como’s popular “No Place Like Home for the Holidays” song.

Perhaps even Como never realized how literal his lyrics would end up, blending public transit with the holidays.

But Port Authority of Allegheny County staffers have been decorating some buses for years.

And this year, the authority dedicated its first holiday-themed light rail train (or T, as we call it).

Amy Duffy has decorated her bus for the last few years. Her 41 route takes her through Mt. Lebanon, South Fayette, Bridgeville, Collier and Carnegie.

The Pittsburgh Trib’s Signal Item newspaper chronicled her in 2017.

The newspaper covered her again in 2018.

Port Authority’s spokesman said the agency has about five or six buses decorated.

If I ever run across one of these decked out rides, I might purposefully miss my stop!