Peculiar Pittsburgh

Why Pittsburgh celebrates Light Up Night before Thanksgiving

Also: Some solid tips for getting the most out of Friday’s celebrations

Comcast Light Up Night 2016

Comcast Light Up Night 2016

courtesy of Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership
MJ Slaby

On Friday, hundreds of thousands of Pittsburghers will crowd Downtown for the annual Comcast Light Up Night.

But why does Pittsburgh go all out on its Christmas kick-off, well before Thanksgiving?

Turns out the city’s first “Light Up” event was even earlier — in April, said Leigh White, spokesperson for the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, which organizes the event. That celebration, of course, wasn’t about the holiday season.

On April 9, 1959, every light in the Golden Triangle was turned on until midnight, and there were spotlights and a parade of torchlights, too, all in celebration of the start of the Pirates season, according to a history of Light Up Night provided by the Downtown Partnership. The event aimed to draw business to Downtown department stores and theaters.

The next year, Light Up Night started marking the start of the holiday shopping season, according to the PDP. It’s been a November tradition since — except for a nine-year hiatus starting in 1973 to conserve energy. Light Up Night returned in 1982 in an attempt to raise morale during the steel industry collapse, per the PDP.

In recent memory, the tradition is to have Light Up Night on the Friday before Thanksgiving, White said. This year is no different.

Before 1998, around 25,000 people trekked Downtown for Light Up Night. But that year, PDP said, it doubled. In 2000, about 100,000 people attended, and last year, an estimated 500,000 people turned out in the unusually warm weather, the Post-Gazette reported.

But if you’re here to complain that Nov. 17 is just too damn early for Christmas lights and trees and shopping, that’s nothing new. Lauren Uhl, a curator at the Senator John Heinz History Center, said she found newspaper clippings going back to the ’50s lamenting the start of the Christmas season before Thanksgiving.

Light Up Night tips

  • Watch the city’s Christmas tree be lit — after dark, at 5 p.m. Friday at the City-County Building.
  • Take a tour of the City-County Building in honor of its 100th anniversary from 5 to 9 p.m. during Light Up Night and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday.
  • Hear a mini-concert from the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra for free, starting at 7 p.m. in Heinz Hall. The concerts are filled with holiday favorites and last about 30 minutes. See the full list of Light Up Night music here.
  • Swing by PPG Place’s ice rink, which opens each year on Light Up Night — and is larger than Rockefeller Center’s skating surface. See rink hours here.
  • Charge your phone during Light Up Night at the XFINTY Experience on the Andy Warhol Bridge and Fort Duquesne Boulevard, where you can also check out a sports virtual reality experience and snag some free hot cocoa. (Temperatures on Friday night are expected to reach a low of 40, per the National Weather Service.)
  • After Light Up Night, Pittsburgh Parking Authority garages Downtown are free on Black Friday and each Saturday from Nov. 25 to Dec. 23.
  • The Peoples Gas Holiday Market is open daily (except on Thanksgiving) from Light Up Night to Dec. 23.

Kickoff the holidays at Comcast Light Up Night

The annual holiday tradition is back: From shopping to ice skating to tree lighting ceremonies, concerts and more, there's bound to be something to put you in a festive mood. The fireworks finale is set to start at 9:38 p.m.

Where: Downtown Pittsburgh

When: November 17, 2017 from 11:00 a.m. to 11:59 p.m.