As fall fades into winter, the hours of daylight grow short, and darkness appears to reign. For millennia, people have been “racing against the dying of the light” by observing various festivals and religious holidays that center on light overcoming darkness. The Romans celebrated Saturnalia, the Celts, the Winter Solstice, the Jews, Hanukkah, and the Christians, Christmas — all of these observances have light as an underlying theme. Not to be outdone in celebrating light is Pittsburgh’s Light Up Night. Although Paris may be known as the “City of Lights,” for nearly five decades, Pittsburgh has been illuminating the winter night and dazzling visitors, only stopping to take a break from 1973 to 1982 during the energy crisis.
Pittsburgh’s Light Up Night
Light Up Night kicks off the annual holiday season for Pittsburgh. The city dons its finest and celebrates the season until it concludes with a final grand spectacle: First Night Pittsburgh. Tens of thousands annually flock to the Golden Triangle for tree lighting ceremonies, caroling, and the arrival of Santa. The party really begins when the Jolly Old Elf arrives at Point State Park as he leads the crowd in caroling and sets off the fireworks spectacular.
At PPG Place and Wintergarden, life-sized Santas are on display as well as gingerbread houses and model trains. The gingerbread houses are created by area chefs, senior citizens and students, and they are surrounded by a creative train layout. Outside, the Rink at PPG Place also opens on Light Up Night and remains in operation for the winter, closing sometime in March. The 65-foot Christmas tree at the center of the rink draws skaters to it as if it were a magnetic pole. There is nothing more magical than skating at night at PPG Place with the glass spires reflecting the lights of the Christmas tree and snow gently falling.
Horne’s Christmas Tree
Although Horne’s Department store is long gone, its iconic Christmas tree has become a Pittsburgh tradition. Like an old friend we only get to see once a year, this tree which graces the corner of the building on Penn Avenue and Stanwix Street is welcomed back every year and is loved and cherished by Pittsburghers who as children were mesmerized by its giant proportions.
While all of these events and displays are worth a visit alone, the glittering cityscape on Light Up Night is incomparable and breathtaking. When illuminated, Pittsburgh teems with lights. They line rivers, climb mountains, illuminate cones, and outline bridges. With Pittsburgh’s unique geography of being situated at the confluence of three rivers and being surrounded by mountains, opportunities for spotlighting the city’s most attractive aspects are endless. Lighted tracks from Pittsburgh’s two remaining inclines – The Duquesne and The Monongahela – scale Mt. Washington.
Surrounded by so much water, Pittsburgh naturally has many bridges. It wasn’t until recently that the city began to illuminate its bridges. The first to receive lighting was the historic Smithfield Street Bridge. Soon many of the other bridges leading into the city were lighted. On Light Up Night they act as lighted portals for entry into our magnificent electrical metropolis. One unusual light sits atop the Carnegie Science Center on the North Side. This cone-shaped glowing weather forecaster called “E-motion” changes color with the weather outlook.
The Best Views
There are several vantage points throughout the city that provide exceptional views of Pittsburgh as it’s decked out in light. Perhaps the most popular is from high atop Mt. Washington on Grandview Avenue. This street was aptly named as it provides a panoramic view of Pittsburgh. From Grandview Avenue, the illuminated city is spread out before the observer as if it were a treasure chest overflowing with glittering amber, ruby, sapphire and diamond jewels.
Restaurants on Mt. Washington are packed on Light Up Night with patrons who want to indulge the senses not only with the beautiful sight of the city, but with gastronomic delights as well. Strolling along the walkway and overlooks creates memories that last a lifetime.
Both the North Shore and Station Square provide exceptional views as well. The lights reflect on the rivers in puddles of color reminiscent of a Monet masterpiece. Not to be forgotten is the view from Point State Park. Towers of lights emanating from the skyscrapers rising before and surrounding the visitors gives one the sense of being immersed and absorbed into the glow of the city.
Less obvious venues for taking in Light Up Night should not be overlooked. Many river boats ply the waters on Light Up Night. While enjoying a relaxing evening aboard ship, guests are treated to an excursion around the city. Instead of merely enjoying one view, a riverboat cruise affords the opportunity for taking in many different vistas.
Finally, nothing emphasizes light more than darkness. Some spectacular views are available from area neighborhoods surrounding the city. The same hilltops that Fourth of July revelers seek out to enjoy the city’s fireworks displays also provide interesting views on Light Up Night. From the peaceful darkness of Schenley Park in Oakland on Light Up Night, Pittsburgh seems to glow even more brightly. Neighborhoods such as Fineview, the West End, and The South Side are among some of the places outside of the Golden Triangle where lesser known views of the city may be enjoyed.
No matter where you are, when Pittsburgh ups its wattage, don’t miss it. Light Up Night is for everyone!