Philadelphia Neighborhoods Show Off Holiday Spirit

It is hard to pinpoint how far back the immense, extraordinary holiday light displays in Philadelphia date. Including strands of lights draped across streets, big inflatable Santa Claus and reindeer, wreaths dotting windows, and more, sprinkled throughout every neighborhood, this city has no shortage of holiday spirit.

There are a few blocks in particular that stand out among the swaths of holiday decor citywide. Some of these streets have been organizing these sizable exhibits for a couple decades, others have only joined in the festivities in that past ten years or so. Regardless, each block brings a unified, striking display to the revelry.

Close-up of the Miracle on South 13th Street (Photo by unexpectedphilablog.com)

Just tucked away from the Passyunk Square action is the Miracle on South 13th Street. The 1600 block of South 13th Street between Tasker and Morris has risen to the top of the charts for holiday light displays. The entire block has organized over the years to include lights lining each house, draped between the rows, and wound around each tree, inflatable Santas, presents, and reindeer, wreaths and window displays, and the iconic electronic icicles.

After Travel + Leisure named the street a Top 50 Holiday Destination nationwide last year, even more attention was drawn to the already popular site. One result of this awareness is increased funding, most notably from Samsung.

The corporation gifted the block with its new SmartThings technology which means, for the first time ever, the entire block can be turned on and off at once, and certain displays are now motion sensored. This new technology helps to conserve energy and cut back on electric costs.

2700 block of South Smedley Street (Photo by unexpectedphilablog.com)

Far northeast of the Miracle on South 13th Street, another longtime contributor to the city’s holiday lights tradition also works on ways to cut the cost and environmental impact of their festivities. The residents of the 4200 block of Greeby Street in Philadelphia’s Tacony neighborhood have been rallying their holiday spirit into decadent light shows for around 17 years. These neighbors make use of energy efficient LED lights to allow the most over-the-top displays without placing too much burden on the environment or their wallets.

Greeby Street in Tacony lights up for the holidays. (Photo by James J. Kelly)

Some other popular blocks in Philadelphia that have come together to display holiday spirit through lights and decorations include, in South Philadelphia, the 2700 block of South Smedley Street and the same block of Colorado Street, and the 3500 block of Oakmont Street in Mayfair.

What all of the residents of these blocks have in common is the desire to bring the neighborhood together through holiday cheer. Many neighbors cite the tradition as a strong unifier in the immediate community and for the city as a whole. Some of these neighborhoods are especially diverse, and the lights and decorations provide a way for everyone to celebrate and enjoy the festivities together.

Another interesting element to these now very popular holiday attractions is the lasting effect the practice has on real estate values. Residents of South 13th Street and Smedley Street alike note that people move to these blocks because of the holiday customs. In fact, when a home on one of these blocks hits the market, a rare occurrence in the first place, it hardly lasts long at all before being claimed.  

2700 block of Colorado Street in South Philadelphia (Photo by unexpectedphilablog.com)


Photo in headline of the Miracle on South 13th Street by unexpectedphilablog.com.

For a more comprehensive visual of the Miracle on 13th Street, check out this video by Philadelphia filmmaker and photographer Cory J. Popp:


Construction Waste Not, Want Not

Philly is certainly experiencing a construction boom, but with all those new properties and rehabs comes construction waste—and lots of it. One company and a rotating cast of artists are working to turn constructing “waste” into something much more.


Neighborhoods in every corner of the city are seeing new housing stock go up, and countless existing homes being rehabbed. From East Kensington to North Philadelphia to South Philly, new development projects can be spotted almost weekly. The resulting construction waste going to landfills is a downside to this real estate boom—or at least it was until Revolution Recovery and Recycled Artist in Residency (RAIR) came along.


Revolution Recovery, tucked away in Northeast Philadelphia, makes it exceptionally easy to not only get rid of construction materials, but to recycle them—leaving no excuse for disposing of such materials improperly. Serving everyone from the individual rehabber to larger-scale construction sites, Revolution Recovery recycles the gamut of typical builder materials: wood, drywall, metal, rubble, plastics, carpet, and more.


Where do the artists come in? Artists, and sculptors in particular, use some of the same materials that turn up at Revolution Recovery: Tyvek, glass, drywall, wood, etc. They had already been showing up at the recycling center in search of these materials, when local artist Billy Dufala told owners Avi Golen and Jon Wybar about a formal program for artists at San Francisco waste-management company, Recology.


“Flying Sails,” (left) by RAIR resident Laura Ruth, and a Christmas card (right) designed by RAIR co-founder Billy Dufala


Golen and Wybar were sold on the idea, and Recycled Artist in Residency (RAIR) was born. Applications are accepted for standard residencies, 3 months maximum, or “Biggie Shorties,” large-scale projects conducted in a short time frame—36 hours, to be exact. Those 36 hours fall during the time the dump isn’t in use over the weekend, and must be photographed and demolished before Monday morning, when it rejoins the recycling stream.


Imagine if all construction waste in Philadelphia was disposed of responsibly! Not only would it benefit the environment, but now the arts as well. A financial incentive from the City to promote the recycling of construction waste could go a long way in achieving this goal.


RAIR is accepting 2015 applicants until December 7th, details here.


Opening image courtesy of Gridphilly.com, “Flying Sails” and Christmas card image courtesy of Philly.com.