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Pittsburgh’s Light Up Night, holiday festivities to attract close to 1 million

By Hillary Maglin

Point Park News Service

Jackson Wetzler, 2, of Irwin takes in 2011 Light Up Night. Photo by Eric Schmadel, Tribune Review

Pittsburgh Light Up Night is quickly approaching, and construction of the PPG Place ice rink to open the night of the festivities has filled city-goers with anticipation of other forthcoming holiday events. One of these proceedings is the assortment of musical performances on three separate stages downtown. For the first time, the celebration will additionally feature a Holiday Market in Market Square.

Starting with Light Up Night Nov. 16 and continuing throughout the holiday season, an array of new and returning seasonal festivities and traditions are expected to attract more than 800,000 people to the downtown area.

“We’re excited to build on this 50-year tradition,” said Jeremy Waldrup, Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership president and CEO, at a press conference for the event on Nov. 1. The Downtown Partnership will organize much of the event planning for Light Up Night’s 52nd year.

New to Light Up weekend this year are free subway rides throughout downtown, so that event-goers can easily and quickly travel to different parts of the city without having to deal with the bother of traffic. Additionally, the “Jazzmasters” music stage at the EQT Plaza on Liberty Avenue sponsored by the EQT Corporation will be a part of the occasion for the first time, making this the third music stage at Light Up Night this year. The PPG ice skating rink is an annual tradition of Light Up Night, but this year, however, it will be larger than in previous years. Despite several new-and-improved attractions, possibly the most unique addition to this year’s Light Up weekend is the wedding that will take place in the midst of event activities on Saturday, Nov. 17 in Market Square.

Musical performances on the Market Square stage, Roberto Clemente Bridge stage, and the new addition of the “Jazzmasters” jazz-only stage at Light Up Night 2012 will each feature several musical performances throughout the celebration starting at 5 p.m. Pittsburgh bands such as Johnny Angel & the Halos, Joe Grushecky and the Houserockers, The Kenny Blake Quartet and The Stickers are scheduled to play on Light Up Night. The following day, called “First Holiday Saturday” on Nov. 17 will include performances by the Granati Brothers, 1980s cover band Totally 80s and local country band NOMaD.

“We have so much talent in Pittsburgh, there’s really no need to book national acts,” said Ida D’Errico, Downtown Pittsburgh Partnership event producer, at the press conference. Country music star Vanessa Campagna, playing on Saturday, will be the only national recording artist to grace the festivities this year.

Attendees can also expect a performance by the Pittsburgh Area Slovak Ensemble, an ethnic song and dance group. The Pittsburgh Ballet Theater will additionally give a preview performance of The Nutcracker in a show inside Macy’s Downtown Pittsburgh.  Macy’s will also unveil its acclaimed winter window displays on Light Up Night. The full performance schedule can be found on the Downtown Pittsburgh Partnership’s website,

Multiple tree-lighting ceremonies will take place over the course of Light Up weekend, starting with the lighting of the City-County Building Tree by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl at noon on Friday. The next lighting will be of the PPG Ice Rink Tree at 5 p.m. Sponsored by the American Cancer Society, the ceremony will incorporate over 300 people carrying hand-held glowing tributes, each one dedicated to an individual affected by cancer. The final tree lighting on Light Up Night will be of the Highmark Unity Tree on Penn Avenue at 7 p.m. The event will incorporate the official drum line of the Steelers, The Pittsburgh Steel Line. Pittsburgh actor David Newell, better known as Mr. McFeely from the children’s television show Mister Rodgers’ Neighborhood, will light the tree, and all who attend the ceremony will participate in a rendition of the show’s theme song, “Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.”

At 7:30 on Light Up Night, the annual synchronized light show, Season of Lights, will premier in Market Square. Set to seasonal music, the 8-minute light show will continue each night through the holiday season, starting every half hour between 5 and 10 p.m. Season of Lights has become a crowd favorite in recent years, and many returning celebrators look forward to this year’s installment. Community College of Allegheny County freshman and Light Up Night regular, Mariah Antenucci, looks forward to the lighting events each year.

“I love the city during the holiday season because of the lights,” Antenucci said. “They brighten [the city] up and add beauty.”

Light Up Night celebrations will conclude with a grand fireworks display at precisely 9:38 p.m. on Nov. 16 from the Andy Warhol Bridge.

First Holiday Saturday will consist of several activities exclusive to the second day of Light Up weekend, including a noon skating party at the PPG ice rink where children can skate with Snoopy and other Peanuts characters. At 2 p.m., the ice rink will host the third annual Mascot Skate, in which guests can watch Pittsburgh mascots like the Pirate Parrot and the Eat ‘n Park Smiley Cookie skating together. Another special Saturday event is the annual First Holiday Saturday Parade beginning at 5 p.m. The parade features antique horse-drawn carriages, regional high school marching bands and other local talent.

The holiday fun in Pittsburgh does not end with Light Up weekend. For the first time, People’s Natural Gas will sponsor a Holiday Market in Market Square every weekend from Nov. 24 to Dec. 23. The Holiday Market, modeled after traditional markets in Germany during the Christmas season, will feature local, national and international vendors selling jewelry, fine china, ornaments, nesting dolls and other holiday paraphernalia. The new market buzz has already fascinated people of all ages from around the city, including Point Park University student, Elizabeth Meckel.

“I’m excited to see what will be sold,” Meckel, 19, said. “I think it’s convenient that the market’s going to open every weekend.”

Additionally, downtown Pittsburgh’s first “Santa House” will be unveiled at the Holiday Market. The 576-square-foot house, including a candy cane entrance, ice-capped chimney and a welcoming snowman family outside, will be designed by Pittsburgh’s Desmone and Associates architectural firm. All Santa House guests who make a monetary or food donation to the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank will correspondingly be able to take photos with Santa in the house.

All holiday-themed activities will officially conclude on Dec. 23, though winter decorations will be displayed until mid-January. With an assortment of seasonal activities and entertainment, there is no doubt that downtown Pittsburgh is the ideal place for families this holiday season.

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