Whether your holiday spirit animal is Mrs. Claus, Balthazar, the Grinch or Hermey, we invite you to check out the city’s creative side during these 10 festive December events—from a galaxy far, far away, to the nearby Cultural District.
1. Joy of Cookies Tour in Lawrenceville: December 3 – 6
Forget pubs, it’s time for Pittsburgh’s favorite cookie crawl. Where can you shop local and come home with a stack of cookie recipes? Baking from scratch and independent commerce join forces at this Lawrenceville institution. Back and bigger than ever for its 16th course, this tour is a must-do recipe for kicking off holiday fun and making a serious dent in that gift list. Tour-goers will pop into 40 unique businesses (look for the giant gingerbread signs) along Butler, Penn and surrounding streets to shop small, sample homemade desserts and collect recipes as they roam. You can’t get that at Target or from Amazon.
Equal parts cookie crawl and buy-local movement, the free, family-friendly event showcases Lawrenceville’s thriving merchant scene, authentic character and creative spirit. What began 18 years ago as a holiday open house at Jay Design Soaps has evolved into a signature economic development event for the nabe. Adding to the fun this year are 14 “Take A Break” stops where attendees can enjoy a meal, coffee or even a much-needed cocktail. Hop on the Molly’s Trolley, which will circulate on December 5th. Download a map and view Cookie Tour hours.
2. Yinz’r Scrooged at Bricolage Production Company: December 3 – 19
Bitter Ebenezer Scrooge, kind Bob Cratchit, poor Tiny Tim, greedy Jacob Marley and all of those pesky ghosts. What if all these iconic Dickensian characters became . . . yinzers?! Find out when Bricolage wraps up its seventh season of Midnight Radio with this Burgh-centric and playfully irreverent spoof. Set in present-day Pittsburgh, the show re-imagines these storied London characters as local legends and celebs in an uproarious parody of the holiday classic. Think Andrew Carnegie meets a former Pittsburgh mayor, plus Pittsburghers both beloved and reviled.
Taking further creative liberties, Bricolage’s team transforms the beloved holiday staple into a radio-style rendition complete with cheeky commercial spoofs, evocative Foley sound effects and a cast of veteran and newbie actors. Adapted by Bricolage’s producing artistic director, Tami Dixon, Yinz’r Scrooged stars Lissa Brennan, Connor McCanlus, Sheila McKenna, Howard Elson and Michael McBurney. Directed by Sam Turich, the family-friendly comedy will also feature music by James Rushin and The Bah Humbugs. Arrive at 7:30 p.m. for the festive “Happy Half-Hour” featuring free beer, wine, eggnog and holiday games.
3. Holiday RAWk at Mr. Small’s Theatre: December 3
If you’ve got local art on your holiday shopping list—and you have yet to check out a RAW Pittsburgh showcase—then you have two great reasons to get to Millvale (well, even more if you throw in visits to Grist House Brewery and Attic Records). Find out what Pittsburgh’s indie art scene is up to—all under one roof—at the fifth and final installment of the 2015 RAW series. Get ready to RAWk as the local arts org puts a holiday spin on its repertoire, with 40 Pittsburgh artists showing off their talents and trades.
Hosted by charismatic artist Alexi Morrissey, Holiday RAWk will set up shop using every inch of the former church, animating the multi-level music venue with performances, film screenings and a marketplace. In addition to 30-plus visual artists, RAWk will feature performances by Kabarett Vulgare, Kellee Maize, Angela Morelli, Vox Lumina, Smokifantastic, Delicious Pastries and DJ Firefly. RAWkers can check out film screenings by Tyler Miller, make-up design by Moriah Moore and accessories by Georgette Frances, Siblatha, Falkora, Rye Bread Studio, Jay Kyda, The Turquoise Forest and Westward Notions. All artwork will be for sale, with prices ranging from $20 to $500. Purchase tickets.
4. Holiday Sale & Make-It-Now Ornaments at Pittsburgh Glass Center: December 4 – 6
Looking to make the holidays even more shiny? Need the perfect gift for that white elephant party or artsy aunt? Keep it glassy Pittsburgh at this sale of all things festive, funky and functional. Featuring a wide array of regional artists who work out of the Garfield-based glass mecca, the unique marketplace is all about limited-edition wares, conversation pieces and the handmade touch. From glass ducks and dazzling jewelry to custom-designed plates and artsy pitchers, you’ll find a glass stunner for everyone on your list—and we highly recommend picking out something special for yourself too. Prices range from $5 to $250, and a wide range of styles will be represented including blown, cast, fused, flameworked and coldworked glass.
What’s the blow-by-blow? The sale runs for three days, and will also feature hot glass demonstrations. If you’re feeling extra crafty, sign up for the Make-It-Now sessions to create your own blown or fused glass ornaments in the hot and kiln shops. Can’t make the sale? Head back to PGC where the glass gifts will remain on sale through Dec. 22nd. Looking for more locally made gifts? Don’t miss the Silver Eye Book Fair (Dec. 4 & 5), Small Press Pittsburgh book sale (Dec. 6), Holiday mART at Sweetwater Center for the Arts (through Dec. 6), Highland Park Pottery Tour (Dec. 12 & 13), PCA Holiday Shop (through Dec. 30), People’s Gas Holiday Market (through Dec. 23) and Store at Society for Contemporary Craft (through Dec. 24).
5. A John Waters Christmas: Holier & Dirtier at Carnegie Music Hall: December 11
Move over Ralphie Parker and Clark Griswold, it’s time to put the X back in Xmas. If you’re feeling more naughty than nice—or are craving comic relief from holiday stress—don’t miss this night of debauchery featuring cult film legend John Waters. Parking his subversive sleigh at Oakland’s opulent Carnegie Music Hall, Charm City’s “Prince of Puke” will transfix audiences with his critically acclaimed one-man show. Known for breaking taboos that most people could not even dream up—from casting convicts and porn stars, to hitchhiking from Baltimore to San Francisco, Waters has perfected his own kitschy twist on “Christmas crazy.”
Equal parts needy, greedy and horny, Holier & Dirtier straddles a hilarious tightrope between capitalism and anarchy and is chock full of mischievous gift-giving ideas and tips for surviving “the trauma of Christmas.” You’ll laugh so hard it hurts when Waters’ rapid-fire monologues upend traditional holiday rituals to reveal his religious fanaticism for Santa Claus and his compulsive desire to give and receive perverted gifts. A book signing and sale of Waters’ merchandise will follow the performance. Your shopping list is not complete without a ticket to this Vilain Noel.
6. Sancho: An Act of Remembrance at the August Wilson Center: December 10 & 11
Travel back in time to discover the remarkable untold story of composer, actor and social satirist Charles Ignatius Sancho. Born on a slave ship in 1729—but never a slave—Sancho went on to become the first British-African to cast a vote in 1774, and was immortalized by legendary English painter Thomas Gainsborough in his 1768 oil painting. The writer’s Letters of the Late Ignatius Sancho, an African—published two years after his death—is one of the earliest accounts of African slavery written in English by a former slave of Spanish and English families.
Bringing Sancho’s compelling legacy to life in the historical one-man show is celebrated Royal Shakespeare Company actor Paterson Joseph, who also wrote the play. The award-winning actor is known for his roles in British and American television shows and Hollywood films. Joseph’s riveting portrayal will provide audiences with a rare depiction of Sancho’s determination, spirit and accomplishments while also exploring an important narrative from the African-British diaspora. Directed by Simon Godwin and produced by Tim Smith, the show features music and sound design by Ben Park. Equal parts moving, humorous and informative, Sancho runs for just two nights at downtown’s recently reopened August Wilson Center. Purchase tickets.
7. Pittsburgh Film Office’s Advance Screening of Star Wars: The Force Awakens at AMC Loews Theatre at The Waterfront: December 17
Forget visions of sugarplums, all we want for Christmas are visions of Chewbacca. If you’re like the legions of Star Warians around planet Earth, you’re counting down the seconds until The Force Awakens is released on Dec. 18th. 2015 is clearly the year of Star Wars: the trailer alone had 88 million views in the first 24 hours it was unveiled. Be among the first in the Burgh to see the epic space opera film and walk the red carpet with local film luminaries. Aptly dubbed “May the Burgh Be With You,” the event is calling all Star Wars devotees and newbies alike to an exclusive advance screening of the highly anticipated flick. Attendees will receive a commemorative keepsake, a photo on the red carpet and free popcorn.
Movie buffs will also help to celebrate the “Hollywood of the East”—where movie crews are setting up shop using Pittsburgh as their backdrop for feature films and televisions shows galore—from The Dark Knight Rises and American Pastoral to Outsiders. Proceeds will benefit event host, the Pittsburgh Film Office, which has assisted with 135 productions and generated $1 billion in regional economic impact since 1990. Don’t sleep on purchasing tickets, because space is limited.
Need more Star Wars in your life? Don’t miss the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra’s other-worldly “Music of Star Wars: Episodes I-VI” concert conducted by Daniel Meyer on Dec. 17th.
8. Pittsburgh Opera’s Une Belle Soirée et Fête at Carnegie Music Hall: December 31
Ready to bid au revoir to 2015 and bonjour to 2016? If you’re feeling like the belle of the ball, then don that LBD or bow tie and sashay over to elegant Carnegie Music Hall for an evening of operatic sounds, haute couture and bon temps. Dubbed Une Belle Soirée et Féte, the festive New Year’s Eve benefit bash promises a chic affair to remember. Opera lovers will be treated to performances by a magnifique 18-piece chamber orchestra conducted by the Opera‘s head of music, Glenn Lewis. Orchestral sounds will be paired with the soaring voices of the Opera’s Resident Artists, who will delight crowds singing festive arias along with a lively repertoire of bubbly tunes including Noel Coward numbers and favorites from Kiss Me, Kate and Camelot.
The night kicks off at 7:30 p.m. with hors d’oeuvres, a sumptuous dinner, cocktails, DJs and mouth-watering desserts. At 11 p.m., revelers will enjoy a high-energy set by the Protégé band, as the dance party ushers in 2016 with plenty of celebratory champagne toasts. Purchase tickets.
9. First Night in The Cultural District: December 31
On a night when the temps tend to plummet, we can think of no better way to warm up winter—and turn our collective calendars to 2016—than with The Wailers at downtown’s signature First Night. The Cultural District concert by the legendary reggae band holds great significance, as original band leader Bob Marley played his final performance in 1980 at downtown’s Stanley Theater just eight months before he passed away. Embodying First Night’s newly unveiled theme—Around the World, Around the ‘Burgh—the internationally acclaimed Jamaican band is headlining the Highmark Stage performing songs from its extensive 50-year discography.
The region’s largest single-day celebration, the arts-focused, alcohol-free and family-friendly Highmark First Night Pittsburgh spans downtown’s 14-block Cultural District—with attractions inside theaters, galleries and mixed-use spaces, along city streets and on outdoor stages. Revelers of all ages are invited to bid an artsy adieu to 2015 with live music, dance, theater, visual art, comedy, magic and children’s activities.
Highlights not-to-miss are performances by Lyndsey Smith & Soul Distribution, the puppet-centric parade and the sixth annual Ready, Set, Sing! vocal competition for young singers. Groove your way into 2016 by soul line dancing in the streets with Roland Ford, and taking foxtrot, tango and salsa lessons with Arthur Murray Dance Center. The merriment culminates with the Countdown to Midnight and raising of the Future of Pittsburgh Ball, along with two Zambelli Fireworks displays. View a complete schedule and purchase First Night buttons.
10. Holidays at The Frick: Through January 10
The Frick Pittsburgh is a sight for sore eyes in all seasons, but is especially captivating during the holidays. There’s even more reason to visit, because the center just completed a $15M capital campaign, unveiling fantastic new amenities for visitors. From the scent of fresh pine and the shine of glittering artifacts, to the glow of lights strewn across trees, the historic East End site exudes a distinctive charm in December.
The museum is expanding its holiday offerings to host creative merriment for all ages running through Jan. 10th—from live music and wine bars, to art workshops and family activities. Immersive holiday-themed tours of Clayton will transport visitors to the 19th century to experience how the Frick family celebrated Christmas with elaborate dining and entertaining traditions.
During Winter Fridays—when the museum remains open until 9 p.m.—visitors can see fantastical porcelain works made by Chris Antemann, view antique cars and carriages, shop for one-of-a-kind gifts and more. On Dec. 5th, attendees will learn about Gilded Age entertaining, practice new cookie decorating techniques, see demos by pastry artisans from Bella Christie and Lil’ Z’s Sweet Boutique and create verdant table arrangements with lush ferns, fruit, berries and winter greens. Don’t miss these special events: Craft Beer, Classic Cars and Live Music (Dec. 4), Shopping Night (Dec. 11) and Adults Night Out (Dec. 18). Need some new holiday baking and decorating tips? View a complete list of Holidays at The Frick events.
Because all good lists must come to an end, we give you our not-to-miss honorable mentions for December:
Carnegie Trees Preview Party at Carnegie Museum of Art: December 2
Attack Theatre’s Holiday Hijinks and Revue at the Pittsburgh Opera’s George R. White Studio: December 5
Book launch celebration for Rob Rogers’ Mayoral Ink: Cartooning Pittsburgh’s Mayors at the ToonSeum: December 9
Winter Flower Show and Light Garden at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Garden: Through January 10