Having a Good One This Holiday Season in Philadelphia

December 21, 2018 | by Michael Bixler

1958: Motorists using the newest link of the Schuylkill Expressway (foreground) get a clear view of the city’s Merry Christmas and Happy New Year sign posted on the Girard Avenue Bridge. Letters are lighted at night.

The winter holidays mean many different things to us Philadelphians. For some, it is the season to rejoice in religious celebration and reflection. For others, it’s about spending time with family and friends. Some revel in the chaos of Center City shopping, while others embrace local traditions like the Wanamaker Organ Concert and Christmas Light Show at Macy’s, Christmas Village at LOVE Park and City Hall, the live nativity scene at Old First Reformed in Old City, and Independence Seaport Museum’s tugboat parade at Penn’s Landing.

For me, it’s all about bus drivers wearing Santa hats and SEPTA holiday trains, over-the-top street decorations in South Philly and citywide window displays, imbibing a little yuletide cheer at McGlinchey’s, Oscar’s Tavern, or Ray’s Happy Birthday Bar, and tuning in to Jon Solomon’s annual 25-Hour Holiday Radio Show on WPRB. Oh, and Black Santa’s West Philly Christmas extravaganza at 58th and Baltimore.

Happy or sad, rich or poor, together or alone, no matter how we all navigate the ups and downs of the season’s extremities, we do it together as one big community. As the following photographs show, Philadelphia has a long tradition of fellowship during the holidays, a civic bond that burns brighter today than ever before (winning a Super Bowl helped…). Indeed, there is strength and wealth in embracing our differences and that makes Philly one of the richest cities in the world.

All photographs courtesy of Temple University Libraries, Special Collections Research Center.

1968: Santa Claus dances with youngsters from 21 schools and two orphanages during a Christmas party at the 19th Police District, 61st and Thompson Streets.

1954: Hanukkah candles are lighted by Rabbi Sidney Greenberg (right) on the lawn of Temple Sinai, Washington Lane and Limekiln Pike. Members of the junior choir chant holiday tunes.

1969: South Philadelphia tradition, block Christmas decorations, is under the direction of Frank Cervo in the 2200 block S. Rosewood Street. He adjusts candle on community creche.

1973: Symbols of Kwanzaa are displayed by Gerald Ojughana and Janet Whittaker in Germantown.

1948: Mrs. Martha Kashner of 6311 Girard Avenue, conductor of a PTC Route 42 trolley, surrounded by the holiday greens and flowers with which she decorates her car each day before leaving the barn. She says few of her passengers fail to smile in appreciation.

1973: SEPTA driver George Earl Young decorates his bus for Christmas in the depot at 19th and Johnston Streets.

1977: Six SEPTA drivers who will work Christmas Day stand together with hands-in and a Christmas tree behind them.

1938: X-mas broadcast from Eastern Penitentiary shows C5895 and C5896 playing their string instruments over the air. One of them goes free this week. The men are in front of a KYW microphone.

1971: An Israeli folk dance is performed by the Youth Group of Temple Judea, 6929 N. Broad Street, as part of a three day Maccabean Festival. The Festival will end tomorrow evening, with the lighting of the first Hanukkah candle.

1941: John Demnainyk, 825 N. Franklin Street, and his family worship in the Ukranian Church. With communicants of the Eastern Greek Catholic and Russian Orthodox churches they’re observing Christmas today–in acoordance with a 1,000-year-old custom based on the old Julian calendar, which differs from the present Gregorian calendar by 13 days. Here the Demnainyks sing Christmas carols beside a gaily decorated tree before eating holiday dinner at their home.

1935: Carol Singers of the Sarah D. Cooper Memorial M.E. Church, 63rd Street and Girard Avenue.

1972: How to really sing a Christmas carol is demonstrated by John Winston, 71, vice president of the senior citizens group at the East Germantown Recreation Center; Mrs. Lucy Smithers, 80, a group member, and Mrs. Gertrude Dixon (left rear) and Mrs. Betty Carson (right rear), members of The Elects of Faith Gospel Group. The singing highlighted the center’s first annual Christmas party.

1978: Shoppers at New Market in Philadelphia’s Society Hill section were recently treated to the Christmas carols of the Paderewski Polish Choral Society of Philadelphia along with the unique atmosphere of the shopping center.

1972: Guest of honor at the St. Barnabus Episcopal School Christmas Party Frosty the Snowman (center) listens to the Christmas wishes of David Wells (left) of 182 W. Durham Street, and Leah Smith (right) of 1228 S. 45th Street. Mrs. Lucille Dickerson of 623 E. Allen’s lane, secretary at the school at 5421 Germantown Avenue, designed the snowman costume and acted the role.

1977: A man adds a snowman decoration to his front yard.

1954: Crowd of people look up at Christmas decorations on the street. A Santa with sleigh and reindeer string across roofs of townhouses.

1956: Outside Christmas decorations brighten the holiday spirit in the 1700 block of South Cleveland Street.

1961: Christmas decorations light Wolf Street from 11th to 13th. Illumination project is community effort.

1978: Tedrick Nye Carlson of Southwest Philadelphia does not have his own house, so he decorates his car for Christmas. He says he has been doing it for the last six years. The decorations come off about three weeks after Christmas.

1960: Crane helps workmen raise a Christmas tree, more than 50 feet high, in City Hall Courtyard.

1971: Rabbi Moshe Moskowitz lights the thirty-foot tall, stainless steel menorah at Independence Mall.

1972: Teacher Fasaha Kazana and students at the African Free School in Germantown gathered around a table set for Kwanzaa, lighting the Nguzo Saba candle.

1962: Hanukkah is observed at the southern division of the Einstein Medical Center by nurses Joan Feely (left) and Mrs. Everette Walker and patients Eddie Rementer, Deborah Tinsley, and Barry Smith.

1969: James Mercer of Erdenheim and Eileen Callahan of Mt. Airy pose in front of the Christmas tree at City Hall, having come “to see the Christmas lights.”

1981: Mike and Debbie Bates begin their Christmas on the USS Ellison.

1981: A couple arrives at 30th Street Station from New York to visit parents in Wayne, PA for Christmas.

1951: Christmas tree in the City Hall headquarters of the Vice Squad is decorated with numbers bet slips, whiskey bottles, adding machine tape, race tip sheets, miniature slot machines, and other material seized during raids. Sergeants LeRoy Bowen (left) and Leonard O’Regan make last minute additions to the holiday tree during the Vice Squad’s annual Christmas party.

1978: With a live nativity scene in front of them, the All Philadelphia Boys Choir at the Old First Reformed Church, 4th and Race Streets, before going to New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral to tape a TV show to be seen Christmas Day.

1963: Photo shows Philadelphia Evening Bulletin building decorated with Christmas lights in the shape of a Christmas tree.

1964: Exterior of Bell Telephone buildling in Philadelphia at night. Windows are lit in the shape of a tree for the Christmas holiday.

1950s: Exterior view of Lit Brothers department store. Christmas decorations adorn buildings along Market Street.

1923: Photograph shows a drove of Christmas shoppers at the intersection of Market and 12th Streets.

1953: Reyburn Plaza, transformed into a Christmas playland by the Department of Recreation. A crowd gathers around a train ride for children. The stage is bedecked with an large illustration of Santa and flanked by holiday bells.

1980: The Gallery decorated for Christmas.

1971: Five-year-old Stacey Ciavardone and her nine-year-old brother Richard personalize Christmas stockings with the help of Gimbels attendant, Mrs. Ruth Johnson. The children’s aunt, Mrs. Linda Russell, supervises the decorating.

1981: This family is entering Strawbridge & Clothier’s big Christmas display. They are walking through a tunnel that lights up as you enter it.

1956: Ready for the demands of the Christmas season, Federal Reserve Bank tellers George L. Arnold (front) and Edward T. Hannan stack millions of dollors of fresh U.S. money at 925 Chestnut Street. The Federal Reserve System, among its functions, supplies new coins and bills to commercial banks and acts as a reservoir of cash. Heaviest shipments are in December. In one week last year, $60,000,000 was distributed.

1961: Last-minute Christmas shoppers find the going rough as they try to push a car over the ice and snow on 69th Street near Chestnut Street. Traffic throughout the Greater Philadelphia area was slowed by the season’s first major snowfall.

1938: An armory full of Christmas cheer for the poor. The size of six-year-old Michael Smith, of 2222 Memphis Street, sets off 3,600 baskets of food before distribution by Salvation Army today at First Regiment Armory, Broad and Callowhill Streets.

1970: Richard Chapman watches as his ‘boys’ open their Christmas presents at the Philadelphia Society to Protect Children.

1959: Young shoe shiner observing Christmas display.

1955: Workers feed an evergreen tree into a chipping machine attached to a compactor truck on 17th Street near Johnston Street. The chippers are powered by gasoline motors and chop a large tree into tiny bits in a few seconds. Two of the devices, on loan from the Fairmount Park Commission, are at work on the holiday cleanup project.


About the Author

Michael Bixler is a writer, editor, and photographer engaged in dialogue and documentation of the built environment and how it relates to history, culture, and the urban experience. He is the editorial director and chief photographer of Hidden City Philadelphia.


  1. Davis says:

    These are wonderful! Thank you Mr Bixler and all the folks at Hidden City.

  2. Yvonne Ferrara says:

    Mr. Bixler,

    I came across these pictures, one of my former father-in-law,Frank Cervo Sr who passed in 1979. He is the gentlemen putting a candle above a choirboy. He lived in the house to the right not the one he was decorating for the community. His address was 2220 South Rosewood St. I lived with he and his wife Anna for four years until my daughter was 10 years old and his son,my husband at the time who was his father. He was a wonderful human being and very generous with his time, etc. Everyone in the neighborhood and surrounding neighborhood knew of him and all loved him because of his personality and generosity with helping whatever cause he could help the neighbors with.
    He lived in that house from the time he was married until he died in November,1979.
    I thought I would share this with you because you took the time to come into the south Philadelphia neighborhood and share these photographs. You could not have photographed a good person as he was then anyone else,athough everyone that I knew on that block were super people,majority Italians. Thank you!

    1. Michael Bixler says:

      Hi Yvonne,

      Thanks so much for sharing. What a wonderful connection! So glad you recognized Frank in the photo. I had hoped someone might see their family and friends in the story.

      Thank you for reading.

      Best, Michael

    2. Yvonne Ferrara says:

      Correction for article on Frank Cervo Sr.
      I lived there until my daughter was 10 months,not 10 years old.
      I showed this to my son and he was thrilled and said,”oh mom,I wasn’t even born then. He really enjoyed it.

      Thank you once again.


  3. Cruz says:

    This piece made my day. Thank you!

  4. Eileen Burke says:

    The photo of people pushing a car in the snow is what winter in the Philadelphia area is all about. I was trying to explain what’s good about our city, and the thing that came to mind was this. Everyone has to help push the car out of the snow. Grandmas will set down their groceries to help push the car. We all push the car, together. Our city at its best. Thanks.

    1. That is so true – there was never a winter in Pennsylvania- either Philly or Pittsburgh – i can remember that someone wasn’t helping someone else push a car to the side of the road, or helping someone restart a cold car using jumper cables. Everyone would be freezing but you always knew there would be someone stepping in to help.
      I moved to California in the late 1970s and i never really saw that kind of ‘help each other’ activity until a 7.0 earthquake hit, and we would all try to make life a little easier for those around us. It actually felt like home, for a little while.

  5. Valerie Harris says:

    Loved seeing these pics as I browsed my phone on Christmas morning!

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