21 ways kids can celebrate the holidays in Pittsburgh

Please note: With new COVID-19 restrictions in place from Dec. 12-Jan. 4, many in-person events will be canceled.

Holidays look a little different in 2020, but the magic continues. These activities keep spirits bright with modified traditions that, nevertheless, maintain the season’s enchantment. Check out these 21 ways kids can celebrate in Pittsburgh.

1. Hear a bedtime story from Santa

Phipps Conservatory hosts Santa Claus, who will read bedtime stories on select evenings through Dec. 22. Featured books include “Penguin and Pine Cone: A Friendship Story” and the magical “Snowmen at Night.” Register for a select date and time, and you’ll receive a Zoom link. Virtual Stories with Santa is free.

2. Have a North Pole adventure

Boys and Girls Clubs of Western Pennsylvania hosts a North Pole Virtual Adventure Package that promises family merriment on Dec. 13. The package includes a chef’s hat, gingerbread house, icing and candies for a virtual decorating session with Mrs. Claus. Kids will enjoy a private visit with Santa and a keepsake photo. Games and frivolity come from the likes of Jingle the Elf and other North Pole pals. The fundraiser package is $50 for one child, with discounted prices for additional kids. The registration deadline is Dec. 4.

3. Celebrate with the community

The August Wilson African American Cultural Center hosts the AWCommunity Day: Holiday Edition as a free virtual program on Dec. 12. The lineup includes a Kwanzaa celebration, baking with Nice to Be Cookies, and a performance by the Afro-American Music Institute Choir. The Gingerbread Family Project, hosted by retired Pittsburgh Steeler Charlie Batch, includes house decorating (pick up a free gingerbread house on Dec. 5), family recipes and memories. Catch the complete lineup here.

4. Go on a holiday scavenger hunt

Think you know your holiday movies? This Holiday Scavenger Hunt at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History offers clues to facts about the cold-weather animals from those films. Look for the dioramas starring polar bears, mountain goats, reindeer and a walrus to find details most visitors miss. The hunt continues through Jan. 8.

5. Rock the ugly sweater runway

Sugar Plum’s Ugly Holiday Sweater Party on Dec. 13 includes a fashion show where boys and girls can show off their terribly wonderful sweaters. Prizes will be awarded to all participants. The $20 admission includes snacks and drinks. Reserve your spot here. Expect to wear masks and to follow other safety practices.

6. Moonlight & Cocoa

Bundle up and stroll through Pittsburgh Botanic Garden along trails glowing from thousands of candles and sparkling lights. Moonlight & Cocoa is a lovely family-friendly winter celebration with hands warmed by a mug of hot cocoa. Timed tickets are required for the event, running Dec. 3-6.

7. Pick a great ‘Bah, humbug!’ performance

This year’s lineup of “A Christmas Carol” is bigger than ever, with unique takes on the classic tale. The 177-year-old story of Ebenezer Scrooge and his Christmas Eve transformation is an annual favorite. Here are some of the ways you can catch it this month:

“One Christmas Carol”: This Prime Stage Theatre production offers Charles Dickens on stage as the narrator. Scott Calhoon takes on the role of Dickens and a multitude of other characters in this one-man production. ”One Christmas Carol” will be live-streamed through Prime Online on Dec. 11, with a recorded link available from Dec. 12-19. The production is holiday priced as a pay-what-you-can ticket, starting from $5. Reserve your spot here.

“A Christmas Carol”: This streaming performance is presented as a fundraiser by Pittsburgh Public Theater. Tony Award-winning actor Jefferson Mays stars as Ebenezer Scrooge – and all 49 other characters. Bring the magic home for $50 per household, choosing a 24-hour period through Jan. 3. This “Christmas Carol” is recommended for ages 8 and older due to some extra spooky scenes. Get your tickets here.

“A Christmas Carol Radio Drama”: PICT Theatre produces this world-premiere audio experience, filled with familiar voices from the Pittsburgh actor community. The radio play will stream through Broadway OnDemand beginning Dec. 16.

“A Musical Christmas Carol”: The 2018 Pittsburgh CLO production starring Richard Thomas was filmed live in the Byham Theater and is now offered free as a holiday gift to CLO fans. The performance airs on WQED-TV on Dec. 10, 18, 24 and 27. “A Musical Christmas Carol” also streams via the WQED website, beginning Dec. 11.

8. Head Downtown for holiday happenings

The heart of Pittsburgh shines with festive holiday fare that’s re-imagined with safety protocols. Kids can video chat with Santa in a Zoom call experience that includes a downloadable photo. Find outdoor activities and playful photo ops in the Holiday Kidsplay Selfie Garden. Skate around a giant Christmas tree at the Rink at PPG Place. Those who prefer to stay at home can access the 18th Annual Gingerbread House Competition and catch the Pittsburgh Symphony’s Holiday Pops concert. Find the complete lineup of activities here.

9. Motor to the Chanukah Drive-in

This year, Chabad of the South Hills celebrates the annual South Hills Lights on Dec. 10 with a Chanukah Drive-in, where the first candle will be lighted in the grand 12-foot menorah. The family-friendly event includes Chanukah treats and swag bags for each car, a multimedia experience on the big screen, and live entertainment. Register your vehicle in advance for a space in the Dormont Pool parking lot.

10. Wander through a winter wonderland

Phipps Conservatory’s Winter Flower Show: Home for the Holidays keeps the fun inside this year to comply with safety precautions. But some of those outdoor fan-favorite glowing orbs and cones will be among the glasshouse displays dripping with lights and color. In the middle of it all, kids can spend time admiring the Garden Railroad and interact with the hands-free stations that operate a carousel and cruise a pontoon boat across a lake. Timed tickets are required.

11. Cruise the rivers with Santa

Gateway Clipper offers Santa Story Time Cruises for little ones this season. Santa and Buddy the Elf welcome families with chocolate milk and cookies. Activities include a Christmas ornament craft, a singalong, and stories read by the big guy. Santa cruises are scheduled for Dec. 5, 12 and 19. Safety practices will be maintained throughout the experience.

12. Make it a Family Day of art

The Carnegie Museum of Art’s Family Day offers extra fun throughout the galleries on Dec. 13. Kids will pick up an Art Cat Bag with kid-friendly activities and seasonal takeaways inspired by the masterpieces on the walls. Be sure to stop by the Neapolitan Presepio. The elaborate panorama of the Nativity encompasses an entire 18th-century Italian village. If you prefer to stay home, register for “Zoom into the Details” to learn more about this 63-year-old museum tradition.

13. Time travel to Pittsburgh’s holiday past

The Heinz History Center revisits “A Very Merry Pittsburgh” for a holiday season full of nostalgic memories. Take Grandma and Pap Pap along to get the complete story behind the displays of Kaufmann’s Department Store windows and the original Santaland throne. The exhibit includes Pittsburgh memories of celebrating Chanukah and Kwanzaa, too. Watch for Santa from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturdays for socially distanced photo ops. The exhibit is included in museum admission. Buy timed tickets or take your chance at the door. Kids are free through December.

14. Party at Holidays in the Garden

The National Aviary in Pittsburgh will show off its new event space with Holidays in the Garden from Dec. 26-30. The garden room will be filled with holiday decorations, lights and music, setting a festive background for small plates from Atria’s, hot cocoa for kids and specialty cocktails for the grownups. Kids can keep busy with pre-packaged craft kits and bird meet-and-greets. Plan ahead with timed reservations and enhanced safety protocols.

15. Watch the Grand Menorah Parade

At 5 p.m. on the sixth night of Chanukah, Dec. 15, the Grand Menorah Parade makes its way from Rodef Shalom through Shadyside and Squirrel Hill with its lineup of menorah-topped vehicles. The event concludes with the menorah lighting at Bnai Emunah Chabad. View the complete parade route here.

16. Eat pancakes with Santa

The Jolly Old Elf is making a special stop in Pittsburgh for PJs and Pancakes with Santa on Dec. 19. Kids can dress in their jammies for a delicious breakfast and the chance to let Santa know just how nice they really are. The $25 admission also includes stuffing a teddy bear to take home. All the usual safety protocols will be in place. Make your reservations here.

17. Explore holidays around the world

Super Science Saturday at Carnegie Museum of Natural History focuses on Holidays Around the World. The Dec. 19th event includes festive games that cross international boundaries. Museum artifacts will help teach cultural traditions. The event is included with museum admission. On Dec. 26, the same topic is presented in a sensory-friendly program before the museum opens to larger crowds. Reservations are required.

18. Gather for a ‘Fireside Nutcracker’

This year, Pittsburgh Ballet brings the timeless experience to your home with “Fireside Nutcracker,” streaming Dec. 17-31. Registration for the virtual production is free. Throughout the run, the ballet offers educational programming and activities for kids priced at $5 each. Choose from sessions like an Afternoon of Enchantment, a Maker Workshop with PBT Costume Shop, and a dive into Nutcracker History.

19. Visit with Santa, via Mariposa Theatre

Mariposa Theatre for Young Audiences is all about connecting with kids. This Christmas season, the organization is connecting kids with Santa through a Zoom encounter. Kids can visit with Santa and Mrs. Claus through packages like a $10 video chat or the $25 premium package that includes a video meeting, storytime and a recording of the experience. Mariposa offers a $10 personalized Christmas Eve message, too. Parents secretly share details that are developed into a personalized recording from Kris Kringle and his wife. Click here to learn more.

20. Gear up for the Polar Express Walk Along

Join the fundraiser for Butler-area agencies in the Polar Express Walk Along in Alameda Park on Dec. 12. The path follows the tale of a boy’s magical adventure to the North Pole. The $5 admission includes a Golden Ticket and bell, just like in the story. Enjoy hot cocoa, cookies and photos for an additional fee. Make reservations here.

21. Celebrate First Night

 Even though the traditional New Year’s Eve celebration Downtown is canceled, Pittsburgh Cultural Trust transformed First Night into a virtual party that will be worth letting kids stay up past their bedtime. Watch the Highmark First Night celebration on KDKA-TV and the Pittsburgh-centric lineup of music, magic and special guests. You can elevate the party and support the Cultural Trust with First Night Friends in a Box, a package of holiday gifts and goodies, including a hot chocolate bomb, specialty popcorn and a First Night chocolate medallion.

Bonus: Check out these Pittsburgh light displays that will brighten your holiday spirit.