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

Updated Nov. 21, 2019

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 in 2016, an estimated 500,000 people turned out in the unusually warm weather, the Post-Gazette reported.

But if you’re here to complain that November 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 2019 schedule highlights

  • 12 p.m. U.S. Steel Tower Dedication of the Crèche
  • 4:45 p.m. Allegheny County Courthouse Trees & Tower Lighting
  • 5:15 p.m. City-County Building Tree Lighting
  • 5:30 p.m. PPG Plaza Tree Lighting
  • 5:45 p.m. One Oxford Centre Tree Lighting
  • 5:45 p.m. Market Square’s BNY Mellon Season of Lights Countdown
  • 7 p.m. Highmark Christmas Tree Lighting with Rooftop Fireworks & Jumbotron Show
  • 9:30 p.m. BNY Mellon Fireworks Finale by Zambelli
  • 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.
  • The Peoples Gas Holiday Market is open from Light Up Night to Dec. 23.

This story has been updated to add 2019 event information.