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It may not boast the 71-foot tree of the Rockefeller Center or the legendary status of the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, but with a profusion of traditional parades and performing arts presentations, Philadelphia is giving New York a run for its money for the title of "Christmas capital of the world."

Although many Penn students may be unaware of these festivities, the traditions of the season hold a special significance for Philadelphians.

The country's longest-running commemorative procession, Philadelphia's annual Thanksgiving Day parade, marks the commencement of the yuletide season for Philadelphians.

"The Thanksgiving Day parade ... is really what gets [Christmas] started each year in Philadelphia," said Bonnie Grant, who is the city's deputy representative for ceremonial and special events. "The parade is just one example of the many holiday traditions which have become Christmas staples for Philadelphians across the years."

Among Philadelphia's most renowned and time-honored staples is the light show and display at Lord and Taylor at 13th and Market streets. This year, the size and splendor of the nearly 50-year-old show may well surpass those of Macy's famous New York Winter Wonderland.

In addition, the city's popular annual City Hall tree lighting ceremony, led by Mayor John Street, illuminates Broad Street throughout December. This newer tradition has helped to put Philadelphia on the map for tourists in search of holiday spirit and memories.

Performances of the yuletide classic The Nutcracker, concerts featuring traditional Christmas carols, gingerbread house building competitions and ice skating with Santa at Penn's Landing are among the many events which further help to imbue the city with a sense of wonder about the magic of the holidays.

"There is a real excitement and enthusiasm about Christmas in Philadelphia because of all the activities," Grant said. "We have tried to create magic, music and memories for both residents and tourists across the years. Through our many activities, we have shown that we have what it takes to be a wonderful holiday destination."

Other attractions of the holiday season include performances of Handel's Messiah and its Hallelujah Chorus at the Kimmel Center, shopping and music at the Italian Market and a five-course, 18th-century-style Christmas meal at City Tavern.

Despite the broad array of special events and activities which the city offers throughout the Christmas season, perhaps the most famous is the Mummers Parade, a New Year's Day classic unique to Philadelphia. The 104th edition of the Parade caps off the holiday season and will feature over 12,000 men, women and children, marching, dancing and strutting while costumed in feathers, glitter and sequins.

"The Mummers Parade is a huge deal here at Christmastime," College sophomore and Philadelphia native Will Weiss said. "People from out of town don't really understand how crazy the city gets about it. It's by far Philly's best holiday tradition."

And while the parade and Philadelphia's other holiday activities may not rival New York's in terms of grandeur or extravagance, according to residents and tourism officials these are the types of traditions that make Philadelphia unique and continue to draw visitors of all ages.

"We are definitely no New York, but Philadelphia is a great city for Christmas in its own right," Donna Schorr of the Greater Philadelphia Tourism and Marketing Corporation said. "We have the expanse of a big city in terms of different types of activities. But with all of our family events, we have created a feeling of small-town intimacy at the same time."

According to area residents, the combined public and private efforts have largely been successful in creating an atmosphere of camaraderie for both visitors and Philadelphians.

"The city feels a lot different to me at Christmas time," College sophomore and Philadelphia native Joanna Johnston said. "In a place that's usually so depressing and pessimistic, the city has done a great job of creating an upbeat environment. Everybody just seems happier."

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