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North Hills Monthly

Light Up Night® 11.21.14

Oct 31, 2014 12:52PM ● By Larry Richert

All Light Up Night photos by John Altdorfer

Light Up Night® in Pittsburgh signals the official start of the holiday shopping season. While it has had many renditions over the years, it may surprise you to learn that it originally had nothing at all to do with Christmas.

We are a city that loves to be you’ll love the fact that ‘we’ created the concept here back in 1959. According to the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, who officially owns the registered trademark Light Up Night®, it was a baseball thing! The idea was to usher in the new season for the Pirates by lighting every available light in downtown Pittsburgh on April 9, a joint effort of the old Golden Triangle Association, KDKA-TV and the Building Owners and Managers Association.

With the success of that first Light Up Night®, an event previously called the Preview of Christmas, which was traditionally held in November, was changed the following year to become the Light Up Night® we now know. On Nov. 21, 1960, the light switches were flipped at 6 p.m., and the town glowed until midnight. The retailers also joined in the excitement by dressing up their windows with season-appropriate eye-popping, family-friendly Christmas displays.

Maybe you’ve been around long enough to remember those days when the now-shuttered Gimbel’s, Horne’s and Kaufmann’s department stores tried to outdo each other in an effort to attract your attention and your money. It was so exciting as a child to walk around the big downtown city with your parents—everything seemed larger than life!

We even survived a dark period that started in 1973 and lasted nine years; due to the need to conserve energy, we were required not to light it up! In 1982, at the height of our steel industry downsizing, Light Up Night® was revived to lift our collective spirits.

There are also a number of ancillary events that have coincided with the kick-off, including Sparkle Season and the Santa Spectacular, which is promoted by CBS Radio Pittsburgh. I witnessed firsthand the now famous jolly old heavyset man in a red suit throw fireballs at the Unity Tree (to use the politically correct term). Seeing Santa pitch fireballs made it worth the trip downtown.

It’s funny how things come full circle around here. Russell Howard, vice-president of special events and development for the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, which runs the official show, used to work with me at KDKA-TV. He returned just over a year ago from Washington, DC, where he worked for the National Geographic Channel. After 15 years, I was curious to hear his impressions of how our city has changed.

“Everything I love about Pittsburgh is still here, only it’s much more grown-up,” he told me. “Being here is like finding a long-lost family member.”

Howard is also enthusiastic about this year’s events. Light Up Night® will be held on November 21, and this year’s theme is, “Put the holiday back in your holiday shopping!”

The Peoples Gas Holiday Market™, now in its third year in Market Square, also kicks off on Nov. 21. The market has increased vendor space by 250 percent, and features a visitor information booth with everything you need or want to know.

Kids can check out the Santa House, where visitors help the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, and the BNY Season of Lights is featured every night along with live entertainment on stage. The bonus is that on Black Friday, there is FREE parking in the Pittsburgh Parking Authority garages, as well as on Saturdays between Light Up Night® and Christmas.

The goal is the same as it was back in 1959...invite the people of the region to rediscover downtown Pittsburgh. Oh, and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention...wait for it…ZAMBELLI FIREWORKS!

That’s what I call Light Up Night®!