11 free holiday events for Pittsburgh kids, from Light Up Night to First Night

The holiday season in downtown Pittsburgh is a magical celebration of bright lights, festive music and annual traditions that bring families closer together. What’s even better is many of the events are free. Here are 11 kid-friendly events where your family can celebrate the season in style – from Light Up Night to First Night.

1. Comcast Light Up Night

Downtown is the place to be on Friday, Nov. 22, when Pittsburgh officially welcomes the holidays during its 59th Annual Light Up Night. There’s so much happening, it will be a challenge to take it all in. The festivities get underway at noon with the dedication of the crèche at U.S. Steel Tower, followed by seven tree lightings and a variety of entertainment across Downtown.

Bring your dancing shoes. Adam Lambert headlines the Comcast Main Stage with Joe Grushecky and the Nox Boys opening the show. Beauty Slap takes over the BNY Mellon New Music Stage with its funky blend of brass and dance. Some of Pittsburgh’s iconic jazz players will present MCG Jazz Presents: The Music of Fred Rogers on the EQT Jazzmasters Stage.

Daniel Tiger will join the likes of Dwayne Dolphin and Daniel May in a very Pittsburgh tribute. Indoor music includes the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra’s free pop-in mini-concerts of holiday music at Heinz Hall. Trust Oasis offers a DJ dance party within a large-scale art installation at 133 Seventh St.

The Roberto Clemente Bridge will be transformed into a snow-filled winter wonderland as part of the Xfinity Experience. Sip free hot cocoa and watch a live stream of Light Up Night images.

Fifth Avenue Place, One Oxford Centre and PPG Place will host live music and free family activities. Watch ice carving demonstrations. Catch the rooftop fireworks and jumbotron show at 7 p.m. featuring Mr. McFeely of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”

Over 25 food trucks will be parked in three locations to keep appetites sated throughout the night.

The evening ends at 9:30 p.m. with the BNY Mellon Fireworks Finale choreographed to holiday tunes and launched from the Allegheny River.

2. The Santa Spectacular

The Santa Spectacular presented by Hefren Tillotson opens in Point State Park at 6 p.m. Nov. 22. A light show will shine upon the Wyndham Grand Hotel set to the holiday music by TJ the DJ, repeating every 15 minutes. Get in line early to visit with Santa, who will give the first 500 kids a special gift. Kids will enjoy games, princess visits, face-painting and a walk-through model train exhibit from McKeesport Model Railroad Club.

At 7:40 p.m., Light Up Night crowds will be asked to turn on their cell phone lights and point them skyward to create a Santa’s view of Pittsburgh from Spiker Helicopters. Fireworks follow at 7:45 p.m. for all those little kids with early bedtimes.

3. Gingerbread House Display and Competition

Kids will be inspired by the overwhelming vision of gingerbread, icing, gumdrops and candy canes at the 17th annual Gingerbread House Display and Competition. This family favorite moved this year from the PPG Place Wintergarden to its new home in the Grand Lobby of the City-County Building on Grant Street. The towering display runs from Nov. 22 to Jan. 3. The competing gingerbread houses are creations by families, seniors, students and chefs in a fascinating range of whimsy and imagination. Returning this year is the miniature train that winds its way through the 450-house gingerbread village.

Admission is free, but donations will be collected for the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh’s Free Care Fund.

4. Spirits of Giving

Ethnic lore and tradition are part of the fun at the Spirits of Giving from Around the World. This annual exhibit represents 16 countries with life-size “Santas” in traditional ethnic apparel and a collection of original paintings depicting international holiday celebrations. The exhibit is open from Nov. 22 through Jan. 2. Note: Spirits of Giving has moved from PPG Wintergarden to the lobbies of One PPG Place and Two PPG.

5. Peoples Gas Holiday Market

Santa’s House at the Peoples Gas Holiday Market in Market Square will allow kids to share their holiday wishes with the Jolly Old Elf. With a donation to Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, you can have a photo taken with Santa, too.

The Holiday Market is a quaint outdoor shopping village reminiscent of European Christmas markets running from Nov. 22 to Dec. 23. Visitors can stroll through the marketplace chalets featuring vendors selling holiday gifts, homemade candy, artisan crafts and jewelry. Daily entertainment on the main stage will showcase the talents of local ethnic performance groups, choirs and bands.

Kids looking to show off their singing skills can compete in the Holiday Market Karaoke Contest. For four weeks, from 5-7 p.m. Mondays and Tuesdays beginning Nov. 25, amateur singers will offer their renditions of holiday classics. Those chosen to move onto the grand finale on Dec. 23 will compete for a $1,000 grand prize.

6. BNY Mellon Season of Lights

A nightly, glittering wonderland show synchronized to holiday music will help to brighten the season every night beginning Nov. 22 at BNY Mellon’s Season of Lights Display in  Market Square.

A light show on the buildings surrounding the Square will feature more than 150,000 LED Lights and a 35-foot tall illuminated Sphere Tree. The BNY Mellon Season of Lights will continue nightly, with a show every half hour, through mid-January.

7. Holiday KidsPlay

Weekends are for kids at Holiday KidsPlay in Heinz Hall Courtyard. Fred Rogers Productions and community partners will offer free hands-on activities from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays from Nov. 23-Dec. 29 and special holiday hours Nov. 29 and Dec. 26-31.

Watch for celebrity guest visits from Daniel Tiger, Peg+ Cat, and Miss Elaina. Play in a kid-sized gingerbread house. Learn about electricity through Christmas lights with Carnegie Science Center. Kids can decorate a paper ornament in the shape of Mister Rogers’ iconic sweater to hang on the Children’s Museum’s Thank You Tree.

Get in the spirit of giving: You can drop off new or gently used sweaters to the Children’s Museum’s annual Mister Rogers Sweater Drive.

8. Holly Trolley and Horse-Drawn Carriage Rides

The next best thing to a sleigh ride Downtown is a ride around town on the Fifth Avenue Place Holly Trolley, which will offer free rides during the holiday season from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays from Nov. 23-Dec. 21 and on Nov. 29. The trolley will make seven stops around town: at Fifth Avenue Place, PPG Place, City-County Building, U.S. Steel Tower, KidsPlay at Heinz Hall, Heinz History Center and PG&H Pop-Up Shop. The Holly Trolley loops through stops about every 15 minutes.

Horse-Drawn Carriage Rides will offer an alternative to walking throughout the holiday season from 2-6 p.m.  Carriages will load passengers on Fourth Avenue next to PPG Place Plaza on Saturdays and Sundays through Dec. 22.

9. The Pittsburgh Crèche

One of Pittsburgh’s most impressive holiday traditions since 1999, the Pittsburgh Crèche is the only authorized replica of the Crèche in St. Peter’s Square, Rome. Located in the plaza area outside of U.S. Steel Tower on Grant Street, the Creche displays 19 larger-than-life figures on view throughout the holiday season.

The annual dedication of the Pittsburgh’s Crèche will take place at noon Nov. 22, and it will remain open through Epiphany in early January.

10. WPXI Holiday Parade

Bundle up the kids and head to WPXI’s 39th annual Holiday Parade on Nov. 30. Along with marching bands and festive floats, the parade will feature performances by Pittsburgh natives Blake Stadnik of “This Is Us” and Layla of KidzBop. The cast from “Forever Plaid” and Mr. McFeely are part of the fun.

11. Highmark First Night Pittsburgh

Families can join in the Pittsburgh countdown to midnight and raise the Future of Pittsburgh Ball during the Highmark First Night Pittsburgh celebration on Dec. 31. Pittsburgh’s 26th annual New Year’s Eve celebration spans the 14-block Cultural District.

The First Night Parade, outdoor performances and two Zambelli fireworks displays – one at 6 p.m. for early bedtimes and the other at midnight – are free. Indoor activities — including magic shows, comedy and theater performances — require a $10 admission button. Buttons go on sale Dec. 3. Kids ages five and younger are free.