Even if Ebenezer Scrooge is getting a rude awakening or three on the stage of the Byham Theater this weekend during a run of "A Musical Christmas Carol," we're happy to say that we've not spotted ghosts of any sort at Market Square these days. Okay, maybe we do get a little spooked at the idea that there are only 16 shopping days left to wrap up our holiday shopping. But that's a story for another blog (hint, hint). Still, we thought we might take a short sleigh ride down memory lane to revisit some of Downtown's most-treasured remembrances of holiday traditions from seasons past.

Just so you know, we really searched around for some really old-time Christmas stories about Market Square.

One reason that we came up with nothing but a lump of coal is that early Americans didn't celebrate the occasion because they considered the custom to be "too English." In fact, the first Congress to serve under the newly ratified U.S. constitution stayed in session on Dec. 25, 1789.

Seriously, can you imagine that? Christmas started to turn a corner in America in the 1820s but it didn't become a big deal celebration until the mid-1800s.  A Victorian Christmas focused a lot on generosity and small family celebrations. Of course, some of our local forefathers probably managed to enjoy the spirit of the season by imbibing the spirits of the season right in our very own Market Square. In the late 1800s maybe even in the Oyster House!
Most likely, these groggy old St. Nick's couldn't remember how they made merry on the morning after. Which is probably why we can't share any holiday tales on the Square.

But it's not our nature to "Bah, humbug" anyone. So let's put on our walking shoes to return to old haunts from holidays of a more recent vintage, when Downtown seemed to have more department store Santas than there are elves at the North Pole. Many of the stores even set up "special" shops where youngsters could buy inexpensive stocking stuffers for Mom and Dad after telling the big guy what big surprises they hoped to see under the tree.

Speaking of stores, everyone lined up back then to "oooo" and "ahhh" at the holiday window displays at Horne's and Gimbel's and Kaufmann's. From Thanksgiving evening to New Year's Day, the fabulous holiday scenes captured the imaginations of everyone from the tiniest tots to the tops execs of the city's Fortune 500 corporations.

Pittsburghers tuned their radios to 1020 AM during the holidays as KDKA DJ Jack Bogut spun his homey tales across the airwaves and raised money for the Children's Hospital Free Care fund as he broadcast from store windows while passersby pitched in for a great cause.

Trees have been a big deal for Downtown also. Check out this beauty at the City-County Building in 1933.

Each year, the biggest tree in town could be found at the corner of Penn and Stanwix clinging to the side of the Horne's store. Wrapped around the intersecting sides of the building, this towering conifer twinkled through the night all season long. Which sort of brings us back to the present because even though the names have changed, the tradition continues as the Unity Tree brightens Gateway Center and the "T" station from its perch on Highmark's Penn Avenue Place Building.

Somehow, we always manage to end up in the Square, where families are creating memories today for holidays of tomorrow, starting with Light Up Night(R) — a Pittsburgh tradition that crosses generations and even centuries — and continuing way past January 1 with the dazzling Eat 'n Park Season of Lights display that paints the Square with thousands of LED lights each evening.

It's never too late to start a Downtown holiday tradition — whether it's Light Up Night(R), the Season of Light, a spin around the skating rink, a ride on a horse-drawn carriage or special memory that's all your own. If you're looking for some ideas, see what these favorite Pittsburghers cherish about Downtown during this festive time of year, in the Holiday Memories section of our website.

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