Ten Pittsburgh Holiday Things To Do

For the first time in a decade or longer, I’m not working on a holiday gift project of some type like a toy drive or a food or blanket drive. No drives.

Organizing a drive or a giving tree is exhilarating and rewarding, but it consumes hundreds of hours. My personal seasonal activities were usually online shopping, a quick trip to Target and not much else until after Christmas Day. I was even in a car accident on Christmas Eve delivering a bike to a foster child. The bike was fine.

Rather than scramble to find something in which to hurl myself, I’ve decided to take this year to focus on  other experiences of Christmas and the holidays. I use Christmas specifically because that’s the holiday that I celebrate. I would certainly like the opportunity to participate in other cultural celebrations as appropriate, too.

I didn’t realize how much I missed some of the experiences I skipped until I compiled this wish list of things I’d like to enjoy this year. Perhaps people told me but I was too busy to hear them.

1. Trains – As a child, I looked forward to occasional trips to see the holiday train exhibit at Buhl Planetarium. Now it is at the Carnegie Science Center which I have only visited one time. We had trains at home which I loved. I don’t think Coco would do so well with trains now, so I’m going to schedule a visit to the Carnegie Science Center this season.

2. Nationality Rooms – I spent two solid years in the Cathedral of Learning completing my MSW, but I never toured the Nationality Rooms which capture the essence of so much that is Pittsburgh – our rich ethnic diversity. This is one of those things we always talk about doing and never quite make it.

3. Renaissance City Choir Holiday Concert – we’ve never made it to this cherished holiday LGBTQ institution. This year, it is scheduled for Saturday December 13 at the East Liberty Presbyterian Church. It is on my calendar!

4. Tour Historic Churches – Pgh Tours and More has several tours set up that include behind the scenes visits to local Christian churches bedecked in their holiday finery. For those who did not grow up Christian, this might be particularly interesting as the month of December is actually Advent, not Christmas.

ChristmasHouse3
The putz house I inherited from my great-grandparents.

5. A Christmas Carol – this is a tricky one as I would like to see the actual play, not a musical version which is very popular here during the holidays. Perhaps I should simply reread the novel?

6. The Putz House – I’ve written about this family heirloom that I inherited, a miniature farm-house that was displayed under my great-grandparent’s tree every year. Is it a true putz house? I’d like to find out.

7. Use the Good China – As a child, I knew it was a holiday when my mother made me bring out one of her china sets, then again when I had to hand wash each dish after the meal. We used a pretty tablecloth and it was festive, even if it was just the immediate family. We don’t even have china – our respective mothers are hanging tight to their sets. Hmmm.

8. Feast of the Seven Fishes – I’m not even a teeny bit Italian, but I have lots of Italian friends. I’d love to be invited to this cultural tradition (hint hint) even though I’m unsure how much I’d like some of the traditional dishes. Our Christmas Eve tradition is to go out to dinner with my parents or other family members (sometimes to the Olive Garden) and then watch Santa Claus Conquers the Martians on YouTube.

9. Christmas Cookies – we’ve only baked our own cookies one time. Usually, I’m so so busy that it is impossible to take an entire day to devote to this task. But I like cookies – substitute Bailey’s Irish Cream for milk in sugar cookies and wow! So I’m putting this on our calendar. After all, Christmas cookies came to the United States via the Dutch and Germans and I’m pretty heavily German so a Christmas cookie with Bailey’s is simply honoring my own heritage right? To be fair, I did start a holiday fundraising tradition called “Christmas Cards and Cookies” but I did not do any baking myself.

holiday serving tray
My grandmother made this holiday serving dish in a ceramics class in the late 1960s. I put cookies on it. Sometimes a cat sits on it, too. What can you do?

10. Kennywood Holiday Lights – this tradition is only about 4 years old, but it seems very nice. I grew up near Kennywood so it is very much a part of my personal narrative. Walking around those familiar lanes with holiday lights, a ride on the Merry Go Round and some hot chocolate seems pretty darn appealing. Several years ago, the Pittsburgh Zoo had a holiday lights exhibit which was also very nice. They discontinued it which is a shame. You couldn’t really see many animals of course but it was more the ambiance.

You might notice what is missing from the list. Some are things I already do or have done (First Night, PPG Wintergarden, drive around to see lights in the various neighborhoods) and some are things I won’t do – Light Up Night – because it is just too crowded. We’ve taken our dog for photos with Santa, we’ve gone skating, we’ve gone to holiday parties in gorgeous homes (ooh la la) and other fun adventures. We even have a set of matching “Merry Christmas Charlie Batch” tee shirts!

Perhaps you’ve noticed that I don’t include many religious activities – we aren’t particularly religious. When we do attend church, it is our local Unitarian Universalist church which isn’t liturgical at all about Advent. Obviously. The holidays are about more than gifts for us, of course, but in a secular way. As a former Catholic, I do miss a lot of the majesty and hopefulness of the season. But perhaps next year …

P.S. – if you want to drop some Christmas cookies off at our house, I wouldn’t turn them away!

What traditions or adventures would you like to try this year (or next)?

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