If you’re anywhere in the Philadelphia region between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, there’s a holiday tradition in Center City at the historic Wanamaker Building, occupied by Macy’s, that’s a must-see. The Macy’s Christmas Light Show has delighted young and old since 1956, and it’s completely free.
The Light Show
In the Grand Court of Macy’s, a four-story high light board twinkles with over 100,000 LED bulbs, surrounding the 40-foot Macy’s Magic Christmas Tree. Julie Andrews narrates the stories of The Nutcracker, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and more accompanied by music at the beginning and end of the show from the Wanamaker Grand Organ. It’s difficult to take your eyes off the show when it’s on, but if you can look around for just a moment and catch a young child wide-eyed with awe, it’s worth missing a scene or two.
Visitors can stand or sit on the floor of the Grand Court to look up to see the show that runs about 12 minutes. They can also head up to the second or third floor and grab a spot along the railing overlooking the Grand Court. In fact, the railings directly across from the Light Show on the second and third floors are some of the most coveted viewing locations.
The Wanamaker Grand Organ
Built for the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, the Wanamaker Grand Organ was transported to Philadelphia and installed when the building was built. It’s now a National Historic Landmark. The organ is played regularly Monday through Saturday throughout the year. If you can catch a noon performance of the Light Show on those days, you’ll be able to hear the opening and grand finale played live by an organist. At most other times, the organ music is recorded.
On Saturday, December 9 only, Macy’s will hold its annual Christmas in the Grand Tradition Concert in the Grand Court. The concert features Peter Richard Conte on the organ with flugelhornist Andrew Ennis and singer Jillian Patricia Pirtle. The concert is free, and the 8pm showing of the Light Show follows.
Meet me at the eagle
A large statue of a bronze eagle, also created originally for the St. Louis World’s Fair, sits in the center of the Grand Court and can’t be missed. For over 100 years, it’s been the meeting place for people who want to find each other in the building. It’s tradition to say to others that you’re meeting for The Light Show, “Meet me at the eagle.” It’s also tradition to take your photo in front of the eagle before or after the Light Show.
What to do next
The Light Show, grand as it is, lasts only about 12 minutes, but that doesn’t mean the holiday experience needs to be over. Head up to Macy’s third floor or out of the Wanamaker Building for other Philadelphia holiday events.
- Dickens Village: On the third floor of Macy’s is a free, 600 square foot walk-through “A Christmas Carol.” Wander through various scenes from the classic holiday story, reading aloud passages as you go.
- Visit Santa: Also on the third floor of Macy’s is a Victorian Santa, who hears the Christmas List of those who sit on his lap. He is always up for taking photos that can be purchased on site. Santa’s last day at Macy’s is Christmas Eve.
- Reading Terminal Market Holiday Trains: An interactive, 500-square-foot model railroad display has 17 working train line and a little more than one-third of a mile of track. The free train display is in Reading Terminal, just a couple of blocks from Macy’s.
- Comcast Holiday Spectacular: One of the world’s largest highest resolution LED displays is at the Comcast Center, a short walk from Macy’s. During the holidays, it presents a free, 15-minute video performance featuring dancers from the Pennsylvania Ballet and a magical sleigh soaring through Philadelphia’s skyline.
Where to eat
Center City Philadelphia has no shortage of great casual and fine dining locations, but here are two that seem particularly suited to a day of holiday activities.
- Reading Terminal Market: Just a couple easily walkable blocks away from Macy’s is the famous public market with over 80 vendors and a wide variety of restaurants and food counters under one roof. You can get a Philly Cheesesteak, a DiNic’s Roast Pork Sandwich (which the Travel Channel says is the best sandwich in the country), seafood, burgers, Amish baked goods, Po Boys, ice cream and more. (12th and Arch Streets)
- Magiano’s Little Italy: This upscale Italian chain restaurant is a perfect place for a family lunch or dinner after walking the chilly streets of Philadelphia. You can order individual dishes or order a family-style dinner. (1201 Filbert Street)
Locations, dates and times
- Macy’s Christmas Light Show: Top of every even hour from open to close. November 25-December 31. 1300 Market Street.
- Macy’s Dickens Village: Continual during stores hours. November 25-December 31. 1300 Market Street.
- Macy’s Visit Santa: Continual during stores hours. November 25-December 24. 1300 Market Street.
- Reading Terminal Market Holiday Trains: Continual during market hours. November 24-December 31. 12th & Arch Streets.
- Comcast Holiday Spectacular: Daily, at the top of the hour, 10 am-8 pm (except 5pm on weekdays). November 23-January 1. 17th Street & John F. Kennedy Boulevard.