There’s no place like home for the holidays

by Jeff Meade
Posted 11/28/23

When it comes to ways you can celebrate yuletide festivities, the Delaware Valley presents an embarrassment of riches.

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There’s no place like home for the holidays


When it comes to ways you can celebrate yuletide festivities, the Delaware Valley presents an embarrassment of riches – a veritable festival of lights and sights.

From right here in our own backyard to Bucks County, the Brandywine Valley and South Philadelphia, you can find plenty of Yuletide inspiration within easy driving distance.

Note that this is nothing like an all-inclusive list. It’s a random but fun selection of the sublimely beautiful, and good, plain old family fun.

Let’s start right here at home.

Holiday Garden Railway at Morris Arboretum & Gardens

100 East Northwestern Avenue, Chestnut Hill


One of the most popular local holiday traditions is Morris’s Holiday Garden Railway, which will be open from November 24 through December 30. Access to the railway is free with admission to the arboretum. And it’s really something to see.

The regular garden railway closes for the season in early fall. After that, says Mellany Armstrong, communications coordinator for Morris, “we put out all our holiday trains. They are brightly colored and decorated with thousands of lights, and so are all the bridges and overpasses and trees. Here and there, there is a Santa Claus. That’s what makes it different from the regular garden railway. It’s transformed for the season. It becomes a festive wonderland of sights and sounds.”

But that’s not all. If it were possible to outdo the daytime experience, Morris manages to do so with the Holiday Garden Railway Nighttime Express, which requires advance tickets. Seeing all those twinkling lights, and lasers shining through the surrounding trees, and hearing the chug and whistle sounds of the trains as they traverse all 15 tracks at night is really something.

No matter when you go, the Holiday Garden Railway always attracts crowds, says Armstrong. 

“It’s our most popular attraction in the wintertime,” she says. “Families bring their kids. We have generations coming back. They came here as children, and now they’re bringing their own children. It’s like having a huge train set under your tree.”

Tickets for the Holiday Garden Railway Nighttime Express sell out quickly. They go on sale November 15.

The nighttime experience takes place on the following dates:

Thursdays: December 7, 14, 21 • 5–6 p.m.

Fridays: December 8, 15, 22 • 5–6 p.m.

Saturdays: Nov 25, Dec 2, 9, 16, 23 • 4:30–8 p.m.

Sundays: Nov 26, Dec 3, 10, 17 • 4:30–8 p.m.

Prices are as follows:

Member Adult: $17 • Non-member Adult: $22

Member Youth (3-17): $10 • Youth (3-17): $12

Member Child: FREE • Non-member Child: FREE

Details here:

Holiday House Tour

Throughout Chestnut Hill, starting at Chestnut Hill College 

Another popular Chestnut Hill attraction is the annual Holiday House Tour, sponsored by the Chestnut Hill Community Association, on Saturday, December 9, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. You can visit six Chestnut Hill homes of many styles, ages and sizes, uniquely decorated for the holidays, complete with live music and treats. 

The tour goes back years, says Anne McNiff, Community Association executive director. This year’s event is the first such tour since the pandemic and “we’re back better than ever,” she said. 

“We received many questions about when it was coming back,” she says. “It’s a very popular kickoff of the holiday season. People make a day of it. They come from everywhere – locally, but also from as far away as Reading and New Jersey. Many have been coming for years.”

The tour is self-guided, with tour participants picking up their maps in the richly decorated Chestnut Hill College rotunda. It includes a stop at Woodmere Museum’s gift shop, where admission is free. It also includes discounts at many Chestnut Hill restaurants. Many of Chestnut Hill’s shops contribute to the home decorations.

You can drive or take the tour trolley, which stops at every house. “The trolley goes in a loop,” says McNiff. “You don’t have to wait long for one.”

Admission is $45 for CHCA members; $50 for non-members. 

Details: or call 215-248-8810.

And while you’re on the Hill, don’t forget Stag and Doe Nights, a longstanding Chestnut Hill tradition.

Stag and Doe Nights return Wednesday, November 29, featuring extended store hours, holiday specials, and complimentary refreshments at many stores every Wednesday from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Look for Santa roaming along the avenue, and the merry sounds of a brass quartet.

Also, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., the local distillery Stateside will sell vodka and bourbon bottles with available engraving, conducted at the Chestnut Hill Welcome Center, 8514 Germantown Avenue.

There are plenty of other holiday happenings in Chestnut Hill. Keep an eye on the Chestnut Hill Local’s Go Local events calendar for more on a week-to-week basis. 

Once you get outside Chestnut Hill, though, there are lots of attractions to keep you in the Yuletide state of mind. Just hop in your car and take a little drive.

Here we go with some regional holiday destinations.

Yuletide at Winterthur

Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library, 5105 Kennett Pike, Winterthur, Del.


The designers at Winterthur are celebrating fashion this year, according to Reggie Lynch, the museum’s director of interpretation and engagement.

Along with the museum’s impressive 10-foot-tall dried flower tree – the first thing visitors see as they enter the conservatory – there are eight trees inspired by couturier Ann Lowe, who created fashions for the likes of Jacqueline Kennedy, Olivia de Havilland, and Marjorie Merriweather Post. 

The works of two Delaware-based fashion designers, Shawn Pinckney and Asata Maisé Beeks, are also celebrated. For example, one tree is an homage to Kennedy’s Lowe-designed wedding gown. Beeks inspired an elegant magnolia tree, a tribute to her mother, and to the magnolias in Winterthur’s grand garden. There’s also a splendid pink tree, also fashion-inspired.

“Yuletide at Winterthur has been going on since the ‘70s,” says Lynch, “but to have this new contemporary twist on it is something we haven’t done before. The trees are quite something. It’s magical.”

Yuletide at Winterthur runs from November 18, 2023, to January 7, 2024.

Learn more:

A Longwood Christmas

As long as you’re heading down 202 toward the Brandywine Valley, don’t forget to check out A Longwood Christmas, Longwood Gardens, 1001 Longwood Road, Kennett Square (November 17, 2023, to January 7, 2024), promoted this year as a retro display of lights, lavishly decorated trees, strolling carolers and dancing, colorful fountains.

Much of the décor throughout Longwood harkens back to tinsel-strewn Christmases past – the ‘40s and ‘50s, to be specific, according to Jourdan Cole, public relations manager.

“We really tap into that idea of going home for Christmas,” she says. “I think there’s something everyone will remember from childhood. We choose a different theme every year. Our staff is passionate about it. Planning starts a year ahead, if not more. We have great places to explore outdoors, too. There are two light tunnels. And you can warm up at fire pits.”

Be sure to book well in advance. Guests are reserving slots already, Cole says. “We recommend making those reservations as soon as you can.”

A Longwood Christmas runs from November 17, 2023, to January 7, 2024.



Fonthill Castle

84 South Pine Street, Doylestown

Heading north to Bucks County, it would be hard to beat the spirit of Holidays at Fonthill Castle in Doylestown, lavishly decked out for the holidays. 

There are three different tours: Daily winter wonderland guided tours, self-guided holiday lights meander days, and the ever-popular Fonthill Castle guided evening tours.

“Our team looks forward to decorating for the holidays,” says Marjan Shirzad, Mercer Museum and Fonthill Castle chief operating officer. “When you get to see the smiles, day in and day out, it’s a really fulfilling line of work to be in. Everything is done by Mercer Museum of Fonthill Castle staff. We know the rooms we are going to decorate. We come up with themes that are timely and culturally fun and unexpected, but also reflective of everything people typically see at Fonthill. They appeal to kids and kids at heart.”

The tours are offered November 19 through December 30. Tickets required, purchased in advance.

More information:

Tinseltown Holiday Spectacular

FDR Park, South Broad Street and Pattison Avenue, South Philadelphia

If you’re looking for fun, and lots of it, check out Tinseltown at FDR Park.

Skate along an ice trail, sail down a 160-foot ice slide, take photos with Santa, help yourself to refreshments at Union Forge Lodge, check out the merchants at the Mistletoe Marketplace, and listen to stories by Mrs. Claus. And really, so much more, in this sprawling cheerily illuminated holiday entertainment venue.

“With the magic of FDR Park’s 348 acres as its backdrop, the nine-acre Tinseltown footprint will showcase breathtaking light sculptures and displays powered by more than 2.5 million light bulbs,” says Tinseltown’s Magdalena Ciccone, communications manager. “As guests stroll the brand-new layout of this illuminated wonderland in the park, they will find larger-than-life sculptures, including a 60-foot light tunnel, glowing baubles, and, of course, Santa’s sleigh. Tinseltown will also showcase some of Philadelphia’s most beloved landmarks and personalities in lights. Along the way, you’ll find a massive, walk-through Liberty Bell, illuminations representing Philly sports teams, and a few more holiday-inspired jawns that guests are sure to love.”

You’d be well advised to purchase tickets in advance. Tinseltown is open, regardless of weather conditions, so be prepared for that.

Tinseltown is open November 17 through January 1.

Details and tickets:

That’s it for your holiday tour. No matter where you go or what you do, have a happy and peaceful season.