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Pittsburgh Light Up Night returns in 2021

What’s become the traditional kickoff of the holiday season in Pittsburgh is set to return.

Pittsburgh Light Up Night is back in 2021 — just in time for the 60th anniversary of the city’s first Light Up Night.

After pausing the event in 2020 due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership promises a “refresh” on the holiday celebration.

Though details were slim in the Sept. 16 announcement, organizers did announce one big change: Light Up Night is moving to Saturday — Nov. 20. Traditionally, the event has been held on the Friday before Thanksgiving.

The Holiday Market at Market Square will celebrate its 10th year in the city and will kick off Nov. 19.

Also new to Light Up Night this year is a new title sponsor: Highmark.

If you know anything about Downtown Pittsburgh and the holidays, you know that the iconic Horne’s tree that dazzles all season long at the corner of Penn and Stanwix streets is now home to Highmark.

“Pittsburgh’s annual Light Up Night is a tradition for our community. Our sponsorship of the event complements the lighting of the region’s most iconic and historic Christmas tree affixed to our building at the corner of Penn and Stanwix Streets,” Highmark Health Executive Vice President and Chief Corporate Affairs Officer Dan Onorato said in a statement released by the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership. “We‘re excited that the move to Saturday will now make this signature event even more family-focused and welcoming to all.”

Did you know? Pittsburgh’s first Light Up Night was not tied to the holiday season. The city’s first “light up” event was held April 9, 1959, in honor of the Pirates.

It eventually moved to the holiday season. But Light Up Night took a nine-year hiatus beginning in 1973 in an effort to conserve energy.

Light Up Night returned in 1982 to help lift morale as the steel industry collapsed. Just a few years later, though, Gimbels — one of the last remaining Downtown department stores — would close.

Before COVID-19, Light Up Night, in recent years, recorded crowds of at least half a million people. In the ’90s, as the Downtown retail district began to implode, the event would see 25,000 to 50,000 people.

But something happened since then: The Downtown Pittsburgh Partnership has grown the event — along with the help of many other groups — which has attracted plenty more people to the city.

Gone are the days when Kaufmann’s would celebrate its grand window displays. (I wonder if any consideration has been given to pay homage to this tradition?)

Even once Kaufmann’s became Macy’s, the building would have festive events on nearly every floor.

And who can forget the Arcade Bakery thumbprint cookies with the iconic Kaufmann’s mile-high icing?

Gone are the days when people used Light Up Night and the holiday season to shop Downtown. Now, people shop online or at Target (guilty as charged).

Light Up Night has changed with the times to let Pittsburghers continue to usher in the holidays.

Light Up Night still excites

IMG_4450Light Up Night.

It’s been the official start of the holiday season in Pittsburgh for 55 years.

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The Horne’s tree still will be lit. And the windows at Kaufmann’s will be unveiled as they’ve been for more than 70 years.

  
But 2015 marks the first Light Up Night without a major department store Downtown. Macy’s closed the nearly 130-year-old Kaufmann’s store in September.

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Sure there is Burlington and Brooks Brothers, some small shops and a bunch of drug stores.

But gone are the anchor stores that helped bring people to all of the shops Downtown.

In many ways, Light Up Night is more important now for Downtown retail than ever before — events like this get people into town and maybe get them to return throughout the season.

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Everybody seems to have their own belief for why department stores no longer exist Downtown.

No matter the reason, though, Light Up Night goes on, even if it seems strange to reveal holiday windows under the Kaufmann’s Clock and have no inside activities. (Kaufmann’s and Macy’s always had wonderful inside events on all of the floors.)

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I’m excited for Light Up Night — for the American Cancer Society and PPG Place tree lighting, for the cute shops and dancing lights at Market Square, for Wintergarden at PPG Place, for the old Horne’s tree and to see the reincarnation of the Kaufmann’s windows.  

Like I have for many years, I’ll enjoy all of the festivities to kick off my favorite time of year in the greatest city on earth.

Happy holidays, Pittsburgh!