Macy's Christmas Light Show, Dickens Village and a Private Audience with Santa
The holiday light show in the Wanamaker Building is a Philadelphia Christmas tradition. Here's how to get the most out of your visit.
You've never seen the three-story tall Christmas light show at Macy's in Center City? You must be new here. Or you are one of those people who think you'll get to see the Liberty Bell someday, but never seem to get around to it.
Maybe you haven't seen the holiday show since you were a kid, when it was the original Wanamaker's department store, or one of the subsequent retailers that moved through the building before Macy's arrived in 2006, 50 years after the light show debuted.
If this is the year you and the kids, or grandkids, are going to head to Center City for a whirlwind Christmas Spirit tour, the light show inside the Wanamaker Building at 13th and Market streets should be one of your stops.
Macy's holiday windows
Start your visit with the charming store windows along Market Street, unveiled each year the week before Thanksgiving with holiday themes designed less to sell you on what's inside, then nudge you into a warm holiday mood.
Once inside, we suggest heading right to the third floor. If you come in the Market Street entrance, the stroller-friendly elevators are just to the left before you enter the grand hall.
Holiday Light Show
Once upstairs you have options. The light shows are every two hours starting at 10am and ending at 8pm. They are short, just 11 minutes long, so if you arrive near the starting time, snag a spot by the railing that rings the third floor offering great views of not only the show, but the Wanamaker organ, the largest working organ in the world. It is played live for the finale of the light show at noon and 6pm most days.
The show itself is the same as it's been since the 1960s, except with Julie Andrews instead of John Facenda narrating and LCD lights that illuminate the snowmen, reindeer, train and other characters instead of incadescent bulbs.
If you arrive in between shows, you can make a right off of the elevators and head to Dickens Village, an animatronic re-creation of A Christmas Carol that Macy's brought over from the former Strawbridge & Clothier. Visitors are greeted by live characters in period costumes who guide you to the narrow lane that cuts through the Victorian town, setting out the story of Scrooge with moving characters, sign boards that lay out each part of the story, and sound effects.
Visit with Santa
At the end of Dickens Village is Santa Claus, so take your time on the way through as there may be a line of kids waiting toward the end for their turn to deliver their list of holiday wishes to the big guy. It's a clever way to keep them entertained during the wait, although really small kids might be a little skittish on the dark path of Dickens Village lined by the occasional ghost from the story.
Once they reach Santa, however, all is well. In fact, Macy's Santa Claus setup at 13th and Market is particularly friendly for the Santa-uncertain. There are two small rooms and each family enters one at a time to meet with Santa and his photographer elves.
Because it's a private viewing, kids wary of sitting on Santa's lap don't have the added pressure of a big crowd of anxious kids behind them urging them to finish quickly so they can be next.
Once they finish their Santa visit, you exit into a small toy department where you can also order Santa photos, assuming everything went smoothly.
Afterwards, you can continue shopping, stick around for another light show or head across the street to City Hall, where Christmas Village is set up with vendors for gift shopping and a carousel and ferris wheel for the kids.
Grab a soft pretzel at some point and you will have had the quintessential Philly experience.