Happy Birthday, Light-Up Night

A look at the history of Pittsburgh’s beloved holiday event, plus the lineup for this year’s two-day affair when the city lights up for the 50th time.



In November 2009, Pittsburghers gathered on the Roberto Clemente Bridge to take part in the first-ever Light Up Night Bridge Party.

Photo by John Altdorfer

The first illumination of Pittsburgh had nothing to do with the holidays—it didn’t even take place during the winter. The very first unofficial light-up event was held in April 1959 to open the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball season.

Fast forward to November 21, 1960: Prior to that year, Pittsburgh’s holiday celebration was called as the Preview of Christmas, but due to its success, the Golden Triangle Association and the Building Owners and Managers Association decided to turn Light Up Night into an official holiday event. During the first Light Up Night, all lights downtown were switched on at exactly 6 p.m. as department stores revealed their holiday displays.

Now celebrating its 50th anniversary, Light Up Night 2010 includes new and traditional features in the two-day affair. Hollie Geitner, Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership’s vice president of marketing and communications, says the event is now “more engaging with activities and performances throughout the Golden Triangle [while still maintaining] the tradition of [including] Pittsburgh performers.”

Annual tree lightings will take place in various locations on Friday: PPG Place, One Oxford Centre, the City-County Building and on the side of the former Horne’s department store. And each year, The Rink at PPG Place opens the day of Light Up Night, showing off a 65-foot Christmas tree and an exhibit of Santas from around the world.

Other events taking place are the dedication of the Pittsburgh Crèche—the world’s only authorized replica of the crèche in St. Peter’s Square in Rome—at noon on Friday and the annual Light Up Night Bridge Party. The party, which closes Friday’s celebration, is held on the Roberto Clemente Bridge and is equipped with a Zambelli fireworks show.

This year marks the introduction of the horse-drawn carriage parade at 5 p.m. on Saturday; it includes nearly 40 horse-drawn carriages riding around downtown while passengers (local celebrities and others) spread holiday spirit. Following the parade, Santa and Mrs. Claus will take center stage in a brief show before taking part in a one-of-a-kind wedding ceremony in Market Square—cake included. (Fri.-Sat., Nov. 19-20. Info: 412/566-4190, downtownpittsburgh.com)

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