Through the New Year, history-rich, foodie-friendly Philadelphia's calendar is chockablock with special events, attractions, and distinctly Philly activities for fun-seekers and families of all denominations, ages, and identities (a bar crawl for gays and friends dressed as Santa Claus? Check!). Read on for the eight best reasons to visit Philadelphia for the holidays this year.
1. Blue Cross RiverRink Redux and Waterfront Winterfest
Celebrating its 20th season in 2013, Penn Landing's Olympic-size outdoor ice-skating rink, which overlooks the Delaware River, has added on the Waterfront Winterfest: a pop-up holiday village and pine tree garden boasting a restaurant, holiday market, hourly light show, and more.
2. Nutcracker Market
The Pennsylvania Ballet kicks off . . . ahem, pirouettes a new tradition this year with its Nutcracker Market at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts. Free and open to the public on December 7 and 8, with a special $100 ticketed preview party the night of December 6, the market—which benefits the Pennsylvania Ballet and its school—features handcrafted artwork, jewelry, ornaments, and other goods from 50 curated vendors. Look, too, for special activities (like candy- and origami-making workshops) and appearances by Nutcracker characters.
3. Franklin Square's Electrical Spectacle: A Holiday Light Show
From now until December 31, every half hour from 4:30pm to 8pm, you can catch this glimmering, colorful holiday tribute to Ben Franklin at Franklin Square. Tip: It involves a sparkling 10-foot-high kite, so you can leave yours at home.
4. Holidays at the Museum
The Philadelphia Museum of Art offers up a bevy of activities this season both on and off its grounds. Highlights include free "Christmas Story in Art"-themed gallery tours (Dec. 1–Jan. 1), an Ugly Sweater Party (Dec. 4), puppet shows about snowflake photographer Wilson Bentley, concerts, Winter Family Studio workshops, and Holiday Trolley Tours through Fairmount Park's historic homes. See www.philamuseum.org/holidays for the full lineup and details.
5. Mummers Parade, Mummersfest, and the Fancy Brigade Show
Well over a century old, Philly's zany New Year's Day Mummers Parade combines crazy costumes, choreographed routines, and serious struts—think a smaller-scale, wintertime version of Rio http://www.fodors.com/world/south-america/brazil/rio-de-janeiro/'s Carnival. This year's edition, which kicks off at 10am, also includes a Fancy Brigade Show at the Convention Center with Broadway-style performances and drag queens for added oomph ($28 for seating). Want the inside scoop and a sneak peek at Mummers routines? Check out Mummersfest from December 28–31 ($5).
6. High Tea, Hot Cocoa, and Christmas Brunch at The Rittenhouse
From November 29 to December 31, Rittenhouse Square's freshly renovated The Rittenhouse hotel hosts a daily "Teddy Bear Tea" for families in its Mary Cassatt Tea Room, which includes teddy bear-shaped cookies and a takeaway plush bear ($60 adults/ $30 children). Adult couples and singles may prefer to imbibe The Library Bar's effervescent "Elegance and Grace" cocktail, which pays tribute to Philly native Grace Kelly and her fondness for roses, while fine dining venue Lacroix will serve a sumptuous all-day Christmas brunch with oysters, caviar, and both milk and dark chocolate fountains on December 25 ($95 per person). Just passing by? You're welcome to peek in and enjoy The Rittenhouse's hot cocoa station, hot apple cider, and roasted chestnuts.
7. Sashaying of the Santas
An LGBT variation on the multi-city pub crawl "Running of the Santas," Saturday, December 21, will see "Sashaying of the Santas" participants garbed as Saint Nick meet up at a bar designated the South Pole, and drink their way through Philly's "Gayborhood" venues until reaching the North Pole. The $20 fee, or $30 if you're not costumed, includes a kickoff libation, drink specials at all participating venues, and prizes.
8. The Moo Shu Jew Show
Chinese restaurants and movie theaters become the promised land for some Jews on Christmas Eve. Why schlep to both, though, when you can take in some stand-up comedy with your Lo Mein instead at The Moo Shu Jew Show? Seasoned comedians Mike Fine, Harrison Greenbaum, and Cory Kahaney will perform sets at this Chinese banquet dinner (menu items include Orange Beef, Lemon Chicken, and Vegetable Lo Mein) at Ocean Harbor restaurant ($69 advance/$80 at door).
Photo Credits: Blue Cross RiverRink Redux courtesy of G. Widman for Visit Philadelphia; Mummers Parade courtesy of R. Kennedy for Visit Philadelphia