28 Vintage Photos of Philadelphia During the Holidays

Philadelphia is especially beautiful during the holidays. And, as these archival photos show, it always has been.

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The holiday season always makes me nostalgic for things I’ve never actually had, like that creamy root beer float at the soda fountain in Bedford Falls, or the smell of pine from that glorious tinsel-strewn tree Bing Crosby and I decorated together. I’ve never celebrated Christmas in real life, but the Margaret O’Brien inside my soul tears up every time she hears “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” in a store.

Philadelphia is especially beautiful during the holidays, with all the unsustainable twinkling lights and smiling people who tend toward the curt during other months. The SEPTA employee I buy my train tickets from was wearing a Santa hat today, its oversized white pom-pom bouncing over her face as she went to take my cash. It’s a lovely time.

Has it always been like this? Well, as we discovered from doing a little historical research, the twinkling lights, SEPTA grace notes and gigantic public Christmas trees have been around for a long time. But other local holiday traditions have come and gone. Below, a selection of vintage photos from holidays past in Philadelphia, in no particular order, with no particular theme — just interesting moments in time that’ll make you nostalgic, too.

In 1962, the Girard Avenue Bridge is all lit up for the holidays:

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Photo courtesy PhillyHistory.org, a project of the Philadelphia Department of Records.

13th and Market Street is festooned with holiday decorations in 1957:

Photo courtesy PhillyHistory.org, a project of Philadelphia

Photo courtesy PhillyHistory.org, a project of the Philadelphia Department of Records.

Philadelphians gather at Independence Hall in 1913 in front of a city Christmas tree:

Photo courtesy of PhillyHistory.org, a project of the Philadelphia Department of Records.

Photo courtesy of PhillyHistory.org, a project of the Philadelphia Department of Records.

African Free School teacher Fasaha Kazana gathers with her students in Germantown in 1972 to light the Nguzo Saba candle for Kwanzaa:

Photo by Williams Owens, Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA.

Photo by Williams Owens, Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA.

In 1969, James Mercer of Erdenheim and Eileen Callahan of Mt. Airy pose for a Philadelphia Evening Bulletin photographer in front of the Christmas tree at City Hall:

Photo by Craig, Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA.

Photo by Craig, Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA.

At Christmastime in 1951, the Philadelphia Vice Squad — including Sergeants LeRoy Bowen (left) and Leonard O’Regan, pictured here — decorated their office tree with betting slips, whiskey bottles, race tip sheets, adding machine tape, mini slot machines and other items seized during raids:

Photo Temple sltk

Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA.

One of the best Christmas presents anyone can get: freedom. On December 22nd, 1923, six Eastern State inmates left the penitentiary after receiving “Christmas gift pardons” from the governor:

Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA.

Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA.

On the left, a two-story menorah arrives at Independence Hall in December 1979. On the right, a young shoe shiner takes a break to look at the holiday display in Reyburn Plaza in 1959:

Menorah photo by Jack Tinney. Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA.

Menorah photo by Jack Tinney. Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA.

Members of the Reading Choral Society, in 19th-century garb, sing Christmas carols in the main waiting room at Reading Terminal, which was still a train station in 1953:

Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA.

Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA.

The spirit of the holiday is clearly seen on Dorrance Street — a small street between Dickinson and Tasker and 18th and 19th — in 1954:

Photo by Dominic Pasquarella, Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA.

Photo by Dominic Pasquarella, Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA.

Rabbi Chaim Lipschitz teaches first- and second-graders at the Beth Jacob School at Third and Catharine the Hebrew blessing over the lights in 1948:

Photo courtesy National Museum of American Jewish History.

Photo courtesy National Museum of American Jewish History.

Salvation Army volunteers gather at the south side of City Hall to unveil the organization’s Christmas drive billboard in 1962:

Photo courtesy of PhillyHistory.org, a project of the Philadelphia Department of Records.

Photo courtesy of PhillyHistory.org, a project of the Philadelphia Department of Records.

At the Southwest corner of Frankford Avenue and Orthodox Street in December 1915, a local business advertises, “PLEASE SHOP EARLY FOR CHRISTMAS.”:

Photo courtesy of PhillyHistory.org, a project of the Philadelphia Department of Records.

Photo courtesy of PhillyHistory.org, a project of the Philadelphia Department of Records.

The All-Philadelphia Boys Choir gathers in 1978 with various animals to create a live nativity scene at the Old First Reformed Church at Fourth and Race before leaving to film a TV special at New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral:

Photo by Richard Rosenberg, Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA.

Photo by Richard Rosenberg, Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA.

The youth group of Temple Judea on North Broad Street in East Oak Lane performs an Israeli folk dance in 1971 as part of a three-day Maccabean festival leading up to Hanukkah:

Photo by Bob Fox, Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA.

Photo by Bob Fox, Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA.

The city’s Department of Vital Statistics prepare holiday baskets for the needy in the City Hall Annex in 1959:

Photo courtesy of PhillyHistory.org, a project of the Philadelphia Department of Records.

Photo courtesy of PhillyHistory.org, a project of the Philadelphia Department of Records.

In 1953, the city’s Department of Recreation creates a “Christmas playland” complete with train ride on Reyburn Plaza in Center City:

Photo by Frederick A. Meyer, Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA.

Photo by Frederick A. Meyer, Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA.

Children at St. Christopher’s Hospital on Erie Ave. hear some holiday songs courtesy of Marnin Kligfeld (seated, center), a student at Akiba Hebrew Academy in 1965:

Photo by Dominic TK, Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA.

Photo by Dominic Pasquarella, Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA.

Holiday shoppers cross 8th and Market in front of Lit Bros. in 1972:

Photo by William Owens, Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA.

Photo by William Owens, Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA.

The tradition of decorating SEPTA trolleys for the holidays has been around for a long time. In this 1948 photo, Route 42 conductor Martha Kashner puts up Christmas decorations in her trolley car, something she started doing in 1944. She also gave out candy canes to children who rode with her during the holidays:

Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA.

Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA.

Holiday shoppers crowd the streets at 12th and Market in 1923:

 Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA.

Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA.

Einstein Medical Center nurses Joan Feely and Everette Walker celebrate Hanukkah with their patients Eddie Rementer, Deborah Tinsley and Barry Smith in 1962:

Photo by Michael J. Maicher, Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA.

Photo by Michael J. Maicher, Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA.

In this 1973 photo, a young boy, David Pronchik, looks for shoveling jobs near the Art Museum so he can make some extra Christmas money. He’s accompanied by his dog, Mopsy:

Photo by Dominic Ligato, Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA.

Photo by Dominic Ligato, Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA.

It’s December 26th, 1978, a busy day for John Wanamaker’s department store. Here shoppers are seen going through the store’s Chestnut Street entrance:

Photo by Sam Nocella, Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA.

Photo by Sam Nocella, Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA.

Marilyn Van Derbur, Miss America 1958, gets the honor of throwing a switch that will light Chestnut Street Christmas decorations in Center City in November 1969:

Photo by William Owens, Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA.

Photo by William Owens, Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA.

Holiday crowds on Market Street in 1949 (left) and 1969 (right):

Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA.

Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA.

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