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The word "Community" written in graffiti style-writing.

Community Spotlight—Murals on a Mission: New Kensington

By Blog

By Gita Michulka, Contributing Writer   |   Image:  This CommUNITY mural by Shane Pilster inspired the Murals on a Mission: New Kensington project.

Community Spotlight

The Community Spotlight series features the efforts Rivers of Steel’s partner organizations, along with collaborative partnerships, that reflect the diversity and vibrancy of the communities within the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area.

Partners Create Arts Destination in the Newly Reawakened City of New Kensington

The tale of New Kensington is not one that is unique in this region.

Located along the Allegheny River about 20 minutes northeast of Pittsburgh, New Kensington was once home to the Pittsburgh Reduction Company—later branded as Alcoa—and then the city saw a decline in residents and resources after the facility closed in the early 1970s. Like so many other industrial towns in southwestern Pennsylvania, the decline continued over the years until only a shadow remained of their once-vibrant business and cultural district.

But the town’s recent regeneration may just be one of the most unique stories around.

A colorful mural of a woman's face next to a diamond and the word "Shine"

“Shine” by Ashley Hodder. Ashley is a local Pittsburgh artist specializing in large-scale public art projects.

Where other revitalization initiatives typically include big development companies and cautious buy-in, if any, from the residents, the story of the new New Ken started with a one-man shop and has been fueled by a rally of overwhelming community support. Michael Malcanas, of Olde Towne Overhaul, saw potential where others might have seen blight. After purchasing several dilapidated properties in the downtown corridor, Malcanas chose to renovate them instead of tearing them down, preserving a piece of the city’s history. Beyond the renovations, his efforts have also been grounded in how he can help the people of New Kensington bounce back with as much vigor as the buildings he is remodeling.

This investment in relationship-building is paying dividends. Despite the complicating factor of opening a business during a pandemic, the downtown district has seen a dozen new businesses move in over the last year. The buzz is building among New Kensington residents and beyond.

This groundswell of grassroots energy has been building over the last few years and is now coalescing around a newly envisioned Corridor of Innovation located on Fifth Avenue in the downtown area. Combined with coordinated strategies at the district and county level through the Reimagining Our Westmoreland comprehensive plan and the Alle-Kiski District plan, New Kensington is poised for future growth.

A mural reads "Welcome to New Ken'

“Welcome to New Ken” by Shane Pilster. Shane is an artist, muralist, curator, and graphic designer. Bridging his expertise in graffiti and urban arts with community involvement, he prides himself in also being an educator, advocate, mentor, and well-rounded, creative individual.

The Voice of a Community and the Graffiti Art that Represents It

In 2020, Rivers of Steel began a partnership with the city of New Kensington, Olde Towne Overhaul, and other local business and community representatives to develop a public mural project designed to energize the community through high-impact public art. Murals on a Mission: New Kensington was developed with the knowledge of the larger growth strategies already in place and with the intent to catalyze further investments in creative placemaking throughout the Corridor.

“We believe in the power of public art,” says Shane Pilster, graffiti art curator and outreach coordinator for Rivers of Steel. “When you’re coming around a corner and see the side of a building with a beautiful mural on it, you just stop in your tracks to ponder it all. Some murals invoke the imagination, while others are more of a historical telling. Through the Murals on a Mission project we aimed to give people words of inspiration and hope for the future of the city.”

Backed by seed funding from the Creative Catalyst Program at the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, Rivers of Steel and the Murals on a Mission: New Kensington team worked with six local artists to install eight graffiti-style murals throughout the city’s downtown between May and November of 2021. The process leaned heavily on community involvement, and in the end over 3,000 residents engaged with the project through surveys, at events, and during the mural installation. The Murals on a Mission team collected over 130 words and phrases of inspiration about New Kensington.

Rivers of Steel staff and project team members also visited with local organizations, such as the New Kensington Art Center, to hear from local voices and learn more about other activities underway nearby.

“Great Beginnings,” in progress, by Max Emiliano Gonzales. Max is a muralist, printmaker, curator, educator, and social activist, is a fourth-generation Mexican American.

“My favorite part of this project was interacting with community members and learning their individual stories and the history they could share about the area,” notes muralist Max Gonzales. “This piece did adapt over the time of its completion, with each day providing more insight into what New Kensington can mean to individuals.”

Great Beginnings, Great Work, Progress, Together We Can, You Are Not Alone, Do What You Love, Just Step Forward, Down But Never Out, and Make Offer—these are all of the words and phrases used in my mural,” continues Gonzales. “The theme of the mural is cross-generational communication. With the first and most prominent phrase being Great Beginnings, this mural seeks to promote a sense of community and understanding. The imagery includes technology from the early 20th century until the present; all referencing forms of communication or broadcasting. The phrases all connect to one another and can be read in a variety of orders to always create a narrative of collectivism.”

“Fill Your Heart with Love” by Christian Miller. Christian, also known as “Mad Rabbit,” is an artist who aims to create as much as possible. Working in several mediums, he produces hand-painted signs for small businesses and creates mural projects to bring color and positivity to the neighborhoods.

In addition to works by Pilster and Gonzales, murals were completed by artists Ashley Hodder, Juliandra Jones with Dejouir Brown, Christian Miller, and Jewels Antonio. Every artist selected their word or phrases from the list acquired from the community and residents. Each concept had few limitations, says Pilster, aside from approval from the building owner. “Our goal was to allow the artists to showcase their styles and personalities through their work, and that really shined through.”

“All of the artists were incredible to work with, very professional, and they all went above and beyond with what they painted,” notes Pilster. “We only requested a certain size of mural per our budget, but each artist went beyond that to showcase their skills and to convey the idea of solidarity through art. They all deserve an extra shout out for the work, time, and effort they put into to creating these murals with love for the art form and the community.”

A black woman's face represents the letter "U" in a mural that spells out Be-You-tiful

“BeYOUtiful” by Juliandra Jones & Dejouir Brown. Juliandra is a visual artist and muralist who believes in the power of community and using art to elevate the voices of all people. Dejouir is an urban artist with a distinct cartoonish style.

A Sense of Place

Like a beacon for the arts, the work in New Kensington also attracted regional partnerships like the Hemispheric Conversations: Urban Art Project (HCUAP, pronounced, “hiccup”). HCUAP is an international initiative, based out of the University of Pittsburgh, that seeks to create platforms for conversation and education about urban art production (graffiti, street art, and muralism, among other genres) and to explore aesthetic and historical connections between post-industrial cities.

During the 2021 production period for Murals on a Mission: New Kensington, HCUAP hosted a residency for Latin American artists to visit Pittsburgh and participate in various public art projects. This year, Mexican artist Eva Bracamontes, Argentinian artist Sasha Primo, New Kensington artist Anton Bachman, Spanish artist Tomas Garcia, and Pittsburgh-area artists Max Gonzales and Shane Pilster worked collaboratively to contribute an additional mural for the city located at Ninth Avenue and Barnes Street.

Muralist Dejouir Brown reflected on why this work held value for the community. “True Art is self-expression and holds unlimited possibilities in the impact it can have on another onlooker. It’s great to have murals that incorporate people of color—done by people of color—to show others growing up that it’s ok being who you are and to love yourself, and to show you anything is possible.”

The word "Chrysalis" in graffiti script.

“Chrysalis” by Jewels Antonio. A mural artist and printmaker, Jewels has owned and operated the Pittsburgh-based screen-printing studio Public Print House since 2015 and has been traveling the Midwest painting text murals for the last decade.

Lessons Learned to Recreate Success

As the mural project began wrapping up, after almost two years of invested time, planning, collaboration, and implementation, Pilster and the Rivers of Steel staff worked to turn their experiences with Murals on a Mission: New Kensington into a community toolkit for other industrial towns on the cusp of a similar regeneration.

“The toolkit outlines our path for the entire project from getting the grant, the overall objectives, collaborating with businesses, working with artists, and connecting with the community,” says Pilster. “Some of the key features include an in-depth look into the city we are working with, our process and work within the city prior to the project beginning, connections that were critical with businesses and artists, and ideas on community engagement that we found to be successful.”

Pilster also emphasized the importance of having a partner like Mike Malcanas. “Olde Towne Overhaul went above and beyond to make the mural dream in New Kensington a reality. They were able to make many of the building owner introductions, assisted with setting up a live painting event, and included us in other events around town. Without having an instrumental connection to businesses in the area, I believe it would have taken longer to make those connections organically, but I also believe that it starts with just one solid connection to make a project like this start to flourish.”

Click here to download a copy of the Murals on a Mission: New Kensington Community Toolkit.

“This is something that could be utilized in cities across the state on a either a smaller scale with a minimal team or on a much larger scale with multiple organizations involved. Large-scale public art is a sign of revitalization, creativity, and a city moving in a positive direction. The plethora of positive feedback that we received from residents passing us by while painting the murals was worth everything and makes me believe that this would work in many cities across the country.”

"Revival" artwork

“Revival” by Shane Pilster.

About the Murals on a Mission: New Kensington Program

Murals on a Mission: New Kensington is a project designed to energize the community of New Kensington, Pennsylvania through highimpact public art. The partnership harnesses the power of large-scale, text-based murals to enhance the visibility of the city, create a sense of place—and bring color, vibrancy, and new character to the urban environment. View the Community Toolkit here.

Murals on a Mission: New Kensington was made possible by generous support from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and Bloomberg Philanthropies, who provided the crucial seed funding necessary to launch this pilot. In the months since its inception, the project has continued to grow, complimenting other public art in the city, creating renewed energy downtown, and attracting new projects throughout the Corridor of Innovation.

Rivers of Steel remains a committed partner in the effort to reimagine the future of New Kensington. The organization will continue to work with the project team to bring new, creative programs to the city as an extension of its mission to serve the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area.

Gita Michulka is a Pittsburgh-based marketing and communications consultant with over 15 years of experience promoting our region’s arts, recreation, and nonprofit assets.  

If you’d like to know more about community projects in the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area, check out this recent collaboration between Center of Life, Arts Excursions Unlimited, and Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Architecture.

a man stands with sculptures in front of a small scale iron furnaces with an industrail former blast furnace behind them

Introducing Industrial Grit and Graffiti

By Blog

By Carly V. McCoy, Director of Communications   |   Above: Artist Carlos Mare, one of the two lead artists for the Industrial Grit and Graffiti residency, stands with cast iron sculptures created at the Carrie Furnaces in 2017. Image courtesy of the artist.

Carly V. McCoyA Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts will Fund Industrial Grit and Graffiti Program

In the decades following the collapse of big steel, the Carrie Furnaces became a laboratory for experimentation—a time on the site when graffiti writers crossed paths with urban explorers, scrappers, and sculptors who recognized the latent creative potential in abandoned mills.

Through a variety of arts initiatives, Rivers of Steel celebrates this post-industrial era and its influence on a generation of artists and community leaders who continue the difficult work of channeling that energy into creative solutions for the community. Now we’re excited to announce a new program that will explore the connections to this era through the unique convergence of graffiti and metal arts—the Industrial Grit and Graffiti artist residency at the Carrie Blast Furnaces National Historic Landmark.

With support from the recently announced Grants for Arts Projects award from the National Endowment for the Arts, the residency will pair two lead artists, New York-based artist Carlos Mare and Pittsburgh native Michael Walsh, with up to four regional artists to explore the unique convergence of graffiti and metal arts. Designed to explore the intersectionality of the two art forms, the residency’s scope also considers the connections with residents of the adjacent Monongahela Valley communities—communities whose character has been shaped by both their industrial and post-industrial heritage.

Graffiti on the Stock House wall at Carrie, as it appeared in 2006.

“The story of both graffiti and metal sculpture is woven into the post-industrial story of the Carrie Blast Furnaces, and Pittsburgh alike,” said Chris McGinnis, director of Rivers of Steel Arts. “During the 1980s and 90s the shuttered furnaces, and countless other abandoned mill sites, became an unlikely catalyst for the creation of new ideas that pushed the boundaries of both mediums. As the steward of this National Historic Landmark, Rivers of Steel is uniquely positioned to tell this story and establish an ongoing program, like Industrial Grit and Graffiti, that provides support for today’s artists to take similar risks in their creative work.”

The Industrial Grit and Graffiti residency is among 1,248 projects across America totaling $28,840,000 that were selected to receive this first round of fiscal year 2022 funding in the Grants for Arts Projects category.

“The National Endowment for the Arts is proud to support arts projects like this one from Rivers of Steel that help support the community’s creative economy,” said NEA Acting Chair Ann Eilers. “Rivers of Steel is among the organizations nationwide that are using the arts as a source of strength, a path to well-being, and providing access and opportunity for people to connect and find joy through the arts.”

With the funding from the Grants for Arts Projects award, Rivers of Steel will connect the lead and community artists for a weeklong metal arts residency at the Carrie Blast Furnaces in June, followed by extended metal arts workshops for the community artists. July through September will engage the artists in a series of community events, dubbed the Community Learning Series, which includes an open house at the Carrie Blast Furnaces and off-site Hot Metal Happenings, among other activities.

In late summer, Mare and Walsh, two pioneers of the graffiti sculpture movement, are scheduled for a public engagement at The Warhol Museum to share their experiences with the residency and reflect on the national graffiti sculpture movement and history.

Carlos Mare, Rodriguez, also known as Mare139, grew up between Upper Manhattan and the war-torn South Bronx; he was part of a group who revolutionized subway graffiti during its peak in the 1970s and 80s. Combining his passion for contemporary art with graffiti style-writing, Mare began creating metal artworks inspired by his unique approach to lettering.

Artist Michael Walsh was born in Pittsburgh, PA, in 1974, and his career as a graffiti artist and sculptor evolved throughout the late 1980s and 90s during the collapse of the American steel industry. He has worked diligently over the past two decades to develop his work and to forward the trajectory of the graffiti sculpture movement.

After the completion of the residency, the newly created metal artworks will be on display at the Carrie Blast Furnaces for the remainder of the 2022 season and possibly beyond.

Stay tuned—in early spring, we will announce which community artists have been selected for inclusion in the program, along with dates and event details for the Community Learning Series.

Want to stay informed about this project? Sign up for our newsletter at the bottom of this page!

Two recycled metal birds appear on a sculpture in from the the stack from the Carrie Blast Furnaces.

A Literary Look: Life in the Iron Mills

By Blog

A detail of Jan Loney’s Flight sculpture from Alloy Pittsburgh 2021 in front of the stack and stoves of the Carrie Blast Furnaces.

Life in the Iron Mills and the Industrial Muse

A Literary Look is a new series that features recommended reads from the Rivers of Steel staff. For the inaugural post, Dr. Kristen L. Paine, our site management coordinator and interpretive specialist, offers up an examination of one of her favorite books, Life in the Iron Mills, a novella by Rebecca Harding Davis that was first published in The Atlantic Monthly in April, 1861. In this piece, Kirsten examines the enduring legacy of the industrial muse and how the human spirit can triumph over the laborer’s toil.

By Dr. Kirsten L. Paine

“It always has seemed to me that each human being, before going out into the silence, should leave behind him, not the story of his own life, but of the time in which he lived.” – Rebecca Harding Davis, Bits of Gossip (1904).

When Rivers of Steel’s Alloy Pittsburgh 2021 tri-annual exhibition opened at Carrie Blast Furnaces in August 2021, visitors explored connections between multimodal art installations and their surroundings. The contrasts between Carrie’s sharpness and softness, light and shadow, riots of color and muted tones altogether enhanced, engulfed, challenged, played with, echoed, and reflected six pieces of art from six distinct perspectives. Visitors to the site found themselves immersed in an environment that can transform all manner of human experience. The furnaces are giants that made the twentieth-century out of fire. They stand in witness to thousands of stories about that century and about the people who experienced it.

Sculptures of metal, glass, and rope; drawings and paintings of people and things; an enormous green jacket and invisible signs in the sky—all of these contain thousands of stories, too—stories about the people who lived and worked at the mill. The art, the work of making it, and the experience of seeing it, thrives in reciprocal community because it becomes a way for people to tell stories to themselves and to ponder a very big question: What does it mean to be human?

A larger than life scale "greens" jacket hangs on the wall of the blowing engine house.

Bradford Mumpower’s installation at the Carrie Blast Furnaces was inspired by the “greens” that workers wore while on the job, scaled to a size proportionate with the historic importance of the site itself.

This universal question has innumerable answers, but here is one: being human means creating art. Life in the Iron Mills, a novella by Rebecca Harding Davis and first published in The Atlantic Monthly in April of 1861, is about a poor Welsh immigrant named Hugh Wolfe. Hugh is a puddler in an iron mill, and he spends his life turning ore into pig iron. As he works, Hugh skims the slag from the top of the molten iron and uses it to create strange and wonderful sculptures. He is a gifted artist, sensitive and delicate, but he is hardened by strenuous work. He lives with his cousin, Deborah Wolfe, a disabled woman who yearns for a more peaceful life. One day the mill’s owners and managers tour the facility and watch the workers, but they do not seem to recognize people like Hugh and Deborah as more than parts of their giant machines. The men leave, but through an increasingly desperate situation involving stolen money, confessions, and imprisonment, the Wolfes are left heartbroken. When the story ends, readers are left only with the sublime statue known as the Korl Woman and the narrator’s voice imploring readers to not just look at the conditions of working-class life, but to see people as inherently beautiful.

This is a basic plot summary of Life in the Iron Mills, and it sounds like a depressing book; however, the story is an opportunity for readers to discover light in the darkness.  It remains one of the finest early examples of American realism, and it was a smash hit from the start.

In the 1860s, literary realism was one element of an emerging artistic style that sought to represent, through image and language, an authentic depiction of life.  Photography demonstrated technological advancements in creating mirrored images of the day-to-day. In one frame, a photograph captured and held a moment in its most quotidian fashion. A photograph showed the human body with all of its imperfections, and such an image could represent a lifetime’s worth of memories.

Literary realism uses words in a way that closely follow what photography transforms with images. For example, Davis uses unvarnished language in her descriptions of a mill town, a furnace, the workers, and the struggle to hang on to one’s own life as “pits of flame waving in the wind; liquid metal-flames writhing in tortuous streams through the sand; wide cauldrons filled with boiling fire” (Davis 45).

teeming archival image

Although it is a more contemporary image, this photo of the teeming process captures the color and heat Davis describes. Image from the collection of Rivers of Steel.

As you read, feel the heat as Deb, body hunched over from years of hard physical labor, brings a pail of dinner to her cousin the puddler. See the licks of orange and yellow fire as she walks past men with shovels and pickaxes. Imagine as the acrid sand tinges the nose. Deb walks past “crowds of half-clad men, looking like revengeful ghosts in the red light, hurried, throwing masses of glittering fire” and mutters—with a heavy Welsh accent—“’T looks like t’ Devil’s place!”(45). The straightforward language Davis uses compares the factory floor to Hell without going directly to that mythical place. It has what is called “verisimilitude,” or the quality of seeming real.

An Illustration of the Belmont Iron Works

The Belmon Iron Works in Wheeling, West Virginia was likely the basis for the mill in Davis’ story. Image courtesy of Ohio County Public Library, Wheeling, WV.

Davis threads lifelike passages of exposition that capture the sights and sounds of a nineteenth-century iron mill between characters’ thoughts and conversations. When Mr. Clarke (the factory manager), Young Kirby (the owner’s son), Dr. May (the town physician), and Mitchell (the owner’s son-in-law) walk through the factory floor with a reporter to inspect the machines and marvel at the industrial wonders they have financed, they cannot grasp how or why one of their workers has made sculptures from korl. Korl, which is an older term for slag, is the limestone waste leftover in the smelting process, and it has been transformed. Hugh uses the off moments during his shift to chisel the “light, proud substance, of a delicate, waxen, flesh-colored tinge” into “figures,—hideous, fantastic enough, but sometimes strangely beautiful” (48). The men stop and stare at one piece in particular. It is a figure of a woman. She is twisted, knotted like tree bark, but she reaches upward with an outstretched hand and looks up.  Her stone face wants for something. Mr. Clarke, Kirby, and the other professional, educated, middle class men—the men who do not actually make iron—discuss who she might be and what she might want, and then they ask Hugh.  He answers them plainly, “She be hungry” (53).  For what, they ask, not understanding what hunger is. He answers again, “summat to make her live, I think,—like you” (54).  The group of men cannot seem to reconcile the juxtaposition of art and labor, so they nod and move on.

The rest of the novella plays on a continuing notion of hunger in the search for life’s meaning. Despair is found where despair is felt. Peace is found where peace is required. However, at the molten core of it, Life in the Iron Mills is about what happens to art when the machinations of industry wreak havoc on the human spirit. And yet it holds up a woman made out of slag, reaching, searching, as the salvo. The waste is not wasted. At the end of the story, the narrator brings the reader back to her room overlooking the Ohio River and reveals the korl woman hidden behind a window curtain. The dim morning “suddenly touches its head like a blessing, and its groping arm points through the broken cloud to the far East,” where the sun rises (74).

a black and white image of the Carrie Furnaces from across the river.

“Carrie Furnace Scenic View” appears courtesy of the William J. Gaughan Collection, University of Pittsburgh, July 1946.

In 2022, Life in the Iron Mills is mostly taught in college English courses. Sometimes readers stumble across the book by way of internet listicles, and sometimes readers discover it while combing through library stacks in search of something completely new. No matter the mode of introduction, Life in the Iron Mills is worth the time and attention paid to it because it tells the story of a time not so long ago and a place not so far away from Pittsburgh and a people not so different from who people are now. Try reading the book, and then come to visit Carrie this spring. See all the colorful graffiti, the welded chairs, and the deer made of hose, pipe, and wire. Walk on pathways laid in korl and consider all manner of art made on the site. Look at what human beings can make.


Davis, Rebecca Harding. Bits of Gossip. New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1904.

Davis, Rebecca Harding. Life in the Iron Mills. Boston: Bedford St. Martin’s, 1998.

Enjoy Dr. Kirsten L. Paine’s article? Read her piece Getting to the Heart of the Hardest Working River


Celebrating Silvester—A German New Year’s Eve Tradition in Southwestern Pennsylvania

By Blog

By Brianna Horan, Manager of Tourism & Visitor Experience | Image: In the Historic Harmony District, the ball is dropped at 6:00 p.m. to ring in the new year on German time, as part of the Silvester celebration.

Brianna HoranCelebrating Silvester in the Historic Harmony District

As the calendar turns from what is often a rollicking evening of socializing to a usually quiet and introspective first morning of a new year, our minds naturally turn to reflections on the past and visions of what’s to come. The Silvester New Year’s Eve celebration in Harmony, a quaint historic district in Butler County, does that too, wrapping up historic ethnic traditions in a salute to a new year that’s still six hours in the future. The town comes together in the afternoon of New Year’s Eve to celebrate when the clock strikes 6 p.m.—which is midnight in Germany—to usher in the new year alongside a country that has shaped much of Harmony’s history.

This celebration of Silvester—German New Year’s Eve—is free to attend and has been going on for more than a decade in the village, which was the first settlement in America of the Harmonist Society, a group led to the United States by George Rapp of Württemberg, Germany. The town was laid out by 90 families in 1805 as a “Community of Equality,” and named Harmony for one of the society’s core principles. When the Harmonists left in 1814 in search of more land and better water transportation (they would eventually end up founding Economy in present-day Ambridge), a farmer and blacksmith from Lehigh named Abraham Ziegler purchased it, and then led a group of German-speaking Mennonites from eastern Pennsylvania to resettle in Harmony.

Today there are more than 50 preserved buildings in the Harmony Historic District, a National Historic Landmark, about half of which date to the Harmonist period. In addition to Silvester, the town also hosts annual Oktoberfest and Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas market) events that draw on traditional crafts and culture.

The ties between Harmony and Germany aren’t just a thing of the past—Rodney Gasch, president of the Harmony Museum, remembers a local resident’s story of playing phone tag with her cousin in Leipzig, Germany, in the days after Christmas. Finally, the two connected at about 5:30 p.m. local time on December 31. “Before long she heard fireworks start to go off over the telephone where her cousin was in Germany, and then a few seconds later heard them go off here in Harmony,” Gasch recalls. The women celebrated Silvester together even though there were more than 4,000 miles and an ocean between them.

So why is New Year’s Eve called Silvester in Germany? December 31 is the Feast Day of Pope Silvester I (his name is also spelled Sylvester) in Western Christianity, a day that marks the burial of this Roman-born saint in the year 335. In 1582, the Gregorian calendar placed the last day of the year on December 31, combining the two occasions. Many of the traditions that are observed during German Silvester stem from an even older pagan celebration in Bavaria called Rauhnächtelike making a lot of noise to drive away evil spirits. Fireworks do the trick these days and are a big part of New Year celebrations in both Germany and the United States. In Harmony, fireworks go off at 6 p.m. after a countdown and ball drop, orchestrated by a local tree trimmer who donates the use of his bucket truck to lower a sparkling ball in the middle of the town square. After that, attendees have the rest of the night to revel until midnight—or sleep soundly knowing that they did their part to welcome the new year. “We have a lot of families with little kids who get to see the fireworks and then go home in time to not miss their bedtimes,” Gasch says.

a crowd of people in the snow by a clocktowner and with a ball dropping

New Year’s Eve, 2019 at Historic Harmony

Attendees can even take home a traditional German dinner meant to bring good luck in the new year: pork loin with sauerkraut, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, applesauce, a cookie, and roll with butter. Typically, the meal is served in one of the historic buildings in Harmony, but because of the pandemic the meals are all carryout this year, and must be ordered ahead of time by December 27.  “The Harmony Museum has a couple of volunteers who like to cook for large groups of people, so it’s all homemade,” says Gasch. “Pork with sauerkraut is traditionally considered good luck in the coming year. One of the reasons for that is because a pig roots forward to gather his food, and in the new year you always want to move forward. Isn’t that appropriate for the end of 2021?” Sauerkraut is also thought to bring blessings and wealth in the new year, and before enjoying it diners wish each other as much goodness and money as they number of shreds of cabbage in the pot of sauerkraut—which is quite a lot! You can read more about Silvester food traditions in Germany by clicking here.

Speaking of dinner, one of Germany’s most consistent New Year rituals is watching Dinner for One on television while gathered with friends and loved ones around the dinner table. This ten-minute British comedy sketch is shown on German television every year on New Year’s Eve, and holds the Guinness Record as the most frequently repeated TV show in history as a result. In past years, the sketch has been shown in the town’s historic wine cellar, built in 1809. While it’s a beautiful space built from hand-cut stone from the nearby hillside, indoor activities have been eliminated from this year’s festivities because of the pandemic. “It’s usually a really nice place to get out of the cold,” says Gasch.

Runners, many in shorts, leave the start line as it gently snows.

Participants run in a 5K during a “Silvester” celebration, reflecting the HarmonyÕs historic German roots, Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2019, in front of the Harmony Museum.  (Steph Chambers/Post-Gazette)

There are still a lot of ways to stay warm at Harmony’s Silvester New Year’s Eve. A 5K Run / Walk and 1-Mile Fun Run kicks off the festivities at 3:30 p.m., an event organized by the Harmony Parks Board, which also sponsors the ball drop and fireworks.  Another more recently adopted tradition that emerged in Germany is the Christmas Tree Toss. Harmony Museum volunteers drive the streets of Harmony and neighboring Zelienople in the days leading up to New Year’s Eve looking for Christmas trees that have been tossed to the curb early. Then at the Silvester celebration they get tossed dozens of more times! There is a men’s and women’s division for the competition, along with a wreath toss for kids 12 and younger. The farthest throw in each category wins a gift certificate for $20.22 to one of Harmony’s local coffee shops. This tradition isn’t followed precisely, however. “In Germany, they culminate in tossing all of the Christmas trees in the town square and lighting them on fire for a big bonfire,” Gasch explains. To avoid a big blaze, the tournament is contained to the driveway of the Harmony Museum, and no fire is involved.

Sheila Yencik of Ross participates in the Christmas tree toss during a “Silvester” celebration, reflecting the Harmony’s historic German roots, Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2019, in front of the Harmony Museum. (Steph Chambers/Post-Gazette)

Gasch has the perfect winter warmer for those who prefer to watch the festivities rather than tie up their racing shoes or roll up their sleeves: Gluhwein. He often spends Silvester in the Gluhwein hut, dressed in lederhosen, knee socks, and a German alpine-style hat while he serves a warm blend of burgundy wine, apple cider, and spices that that translates to “glow wine” in English. This traditional beverage is found at many of the traditional Christmas markets in Germany. Harmony’s is served in a glass keepsake mug that can be brought back that evening or to future events for low-cost refills.

But gluhwein in hand or not, chilly weather is no reason to stay home. This year will mark the return of Silvester after a year off last year due to the pandemic, but in the past around 3,500 people have participated in the German New year’s celebration, which is organized by both the Harmony Museum and the Harmony Parks Board. The crowd is filled with locals and visitors from around the region. Gasch says he often meets people who are recent immigrants to the area from Germany, who studied there, or were stationed in the country while serving in the military. “It’s a great excuse to bundle up and be outside,” says Gasch. “Several years ago, we had gigantic snowflakes that were floating down as the ball dropped and the fireworks started. It was magical, and we’re hoping that happens again!”

Silvester New Year’s Eve starts at 3:00 p.m. and ends a bit after German midnight at 6:00 p.m. on Friday, December 31. The event is free, and full details can be found by clicking here.

All photos provided by Historic Harmony, Inc.

As the manager of tourism and visitor experience for Rivers of Steel, Brianna Horan is always discovering new things to do throughout the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area—and getting to know its people! Check out her itineraries for other adventures in southwestern Pennsylvania.

A log cabin with a sidewalk in front and a large pine tree to the side.

Community Spotlight: Harmony Museum’s Newest Display will Showcase how 19th-Century Settlers Worked

By Blog

By Gita Michulka, Contributing Writer   |   Image: The Carothers Family cabin in the Historic Harmony District will showcase how 19th-century setters worked.

Community Spotlight

The Community Spotlight series features Rivers of Steel’s partner organizations whose work contributes to the vibrancy of the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area.

Harmony Museum’s Newest Display will Showcase how 19th-Century Settlers Worked

Harmony Historic District—a National Historic Landmark sitting north of Pittsburgh “30 miles and 200 years from the big city”—is home to one of the region’s largest preserved collections of buildings dating to the first quarter of the 1800s. The Harmonists, a communal society from Germany, first settled in the area in 1804. “They were very industrious,” points out Rodney Gasch, President of the Harmony Museum. “When they left in 1814 after just 10 years, they left 135 buildings, of which we have 25 left. It’s a great concentration of old buildings, and we’re really blessed to have all of this historic structure here in town.”

Thanks to a generous donation from a supporter of the museum, paired with funding from River of Steel’s Mini-Grant Program, this historic collection has grown by one log cabin and one unique display.

“There is a supporter of the museum, the P.W. Carothers Family, and the house that they grew up in was getting torn down, and the basis of that house was a circa 1820 log cabin,” says Gasch. “They offered to donate the log cabin part of the building to the museum so it could be preserved. We were able to partner with the Borough of Harmony—they had what was just a gravel municipal parking lot at the entrance to Harmony’s Historic Landmark District—and we reassembled the log cabin on that gravel parking lot to serve as a new focal point as you enter the historic district.”

A collection of Harmony Museum volunteers worked to dismantle, relocate, and reconstruct the log cabin. Work included numbering the logs as they were taken down—so they could be put back together “like Lincoln Logs,” sealing the area between the logs with cement chinking, installing a roof, and adding an era-appropriate porch.

Once this work was complete, the porch was used to house visitor information for both Butler County and places of interest in the Borough of Harmony.

“But we didn’t have the funding to finish the inside,” explains Gasch. “And so the Mini-Grant Program was really crucial for us, because we could match the Mini-Grant money with our labor, and we have a lot of really talented volunteers. Like most nonprofits, funding is a challenge, but we have skilled people who are happy to help out.”

Harmony Museum volunteer Frank Luek applies a finish to the beadboard ceiling. Recessed ceiling lights, powered by rooftop solar panels, provide the lighting.

The Harmony Museum is already home to a similar cabin that was donated about 40 years ago, which is included as part of the museum tour to showcase how a 19th-century pioneer family would have lived. The display includes old rope beds, a spinning wheel, and candle making tools, among other artifacts.

Once completed, the Carothers Family cabin, which Gasch considers a “sister cabin” to this current display, will showcase how settlers from the same era worked.

With the funding from the Rivers of Steel grant, the interior of the cabin is in the process of being completed as true-to-the-era as possible. The cabin received a new sub-floor, and a museum member with a particular interest in having things look historically correct arranged for the delivery of hemlock plank flooring. The interior chinking has been fortified, and Gasch was also able to locate rosette nails from a manufacturer in Massachusetts that still makes the old-fashioned square-headed nails, to complete the look.

Installing solar panels on the cabin.

In order to have greater flexibility to offer programming throughout the year while staying true to the integrity of the time period, the museum also had solar panels installed on the roof that will power recessed direct-current lighting to illuminate the cabin during tours and programming. “The cabin is still ‘off-the-grid’,” notes Gasch, “but we now have flexibility to hold events into the evening hours or during dreary winter months.”

An additional donation from the Carothers Family will be put toward the final installation of the exhibit itself, which will include wood working tools, blacksmith tools, rake making, and representation of domestic work as well, with 150-year-old washing machines and butter churns.

Visitors to the cabin will also be able to learn how settlers utilized natural freeze / thaw cycles to create what locals call “barn stones”—massive chunks of sandstone that were carved down into square building blocks used as bases for buildings and structures.

Beyond the permanent displays, a new feature of the museum’s programming will be an artisans-in-residence series offered at the cabin. The exhibits housed in the center of the space will live on moveable panels, allowing the museum to open up the cabin to showcase an artisan at work. “We can invite a wood carver, or someone who spins or weaves, to come in and spend some time demonstrating their craft,” says Gasch. “We’re looking forward to highlighting artists who can demonstrate these skills that would have also been integral to the daily lives of the 19th-century settlers.”

Harmony Museum volunteers are working to complete the interior of the cabin and the displays by the spring of 2022. Learn more at

All photos provided by Historic Harmony, Inc.

About the Mini-Grant Program

Rivers of Steel’s Mini-Grant Program assists heritage-related sites and organizations as well as municipalities within the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area to develop new and innovative programs, partnerships, exhibits, tours, and other initiatives. Funded projects support heritage tourism, enhance preservation efforts, involve the stewardship of natural resources, encourage outdoor recreation, and include collaborative partnerships. Through these efforts, Rivers of Steel seeks to identify, conserve, promote, and interpret the industrial and cultural heritage that defines southwestern Pennsylvania.

The Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area is one of twelve supported by the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR). Funding is provided via DCNR’s Community Conservation Partnerships Program and the Environmental Stewardship Fund to Rivers of Steel, which administers the Mini-Grant Program. The Historic Harmony, Inc. is one of six organizations who received Mini-Grant funding through this program in 2021.

Gita Michulka is a Pittsburgh-based marketing and communications consultant with over 15 years of experience promoting our region’s arts, recreation, and nonprofit assets.  

If you’d like to know more about community projects supported by the Mini-Grant Program, read Gita’s recent article about Center of Life’s collaboration at the Hazelwood Green.

costumed dancers

Heritage Highlights: Bulgarian Macedonian National Educational and Cultural Center

By Blog

Otets Paissii Performing Folk Ensemble. All images courtesy of the BMNECC.

Heritage Highlights

Rivers of Steel’s Heritage Arts program strives to represent the region’s diverse cultural heritage, from ethnic customs and occupational traditions directly linked to Pittsburgh’s industrial past to new American folk arts and cultural practices emerging from the region’s diverse urban experience.  Usually passed down from person to person within close-knit communities, these cultural traditions are as varied as they are unique, each representing one aspect of what makes southwestern Pennsylvania’s heritage so rich.

This month, Jon Engel popped down the street to 449 West Eighth Avenue in West Homestead, which has been home to the Bulgarian Macedonian National Educational and Cultural Center for nearly a century. There, he met a tight-knit—yet ever-expanding—community, bound by their rich folklife and universal love for food, music, and each other. He spoke with some of their members about the specific traditions that the Center seeks to preserve, why those traditions are valuable, and how they remain relevant to this day.

Jon Engel Headshot

The Bulgarian Macedonian National Educational and Cultural Center

By Jonathan Engel

The Bulgarian Macedonian Club

Lambe Markoff immigrated to Pittsburgh in 1909. He was part of that vast generation of Eastern Europeans who came to the United States at the turn of the century, one of the working class immigrants from whom so many in this region now claim descent.

He brought his family over from Macedonia in 1912—his wife, daughter, and father. His descendants have lived in the Steel Valley area ever since. In 1930, Lambe and a group of other Bulgarian and Macedonian immigrants banded together to create the Bulgarian and Macedonian Benefit Association. They established themselves as one of many ethnic clubs that sprouted around this time. As new arrivals, they sought to make new lives in America, under the ashen sky of the steel city. Like other such clubs, the Association’s primary directives were to support their community and to preserve the arts and traditions of their home cultures. When Ed Markoff, Lambe’s grandson, tells me this, he is brimming with pride. Ed is 73-years-old—we spoke on his birthday. He has spent his life continuing his family’s legacy. He is the current president of the Bulgarian Macedonian National Educational and Cultural Center (BMNECC), the Association’s new form, still located in the original brick building in West Homestead.

Ninety-one years after the club was founded, while many other 20th-century ethnic clubs have closed, BMNECC has evolved into a multifaceted organization with a focus on community events and cultural education. The endurance of the Bulgarian and Macedonian folk culture in Pittsburgh is largely due to the efforts of people like Ed, who speak of their families and friends in poetry. But he is not alone. At BMNECC, a cohort of life-long locals and recent immigrants strive to maintain their ancestral traditions and unique histories, both of which transcend borders.

A man stands in front of a portrait.

Ed Markoff with a portrait of Lambe Markoff.

The Founders

Lambe Markoff was not a steelworker. In fact, back then, very few Bulgarians and Macedonians were. As Ed sees it, they were “entrepreneurs,” an “independent people” coming from rural countryside with no steel mills. Many preferred to start their own businesses. In the early 1900s, Pittsburgh may have been home to something around twenty Bulgarian bakeries, BMNECC member Zhelyzako Latinov recalls.

Lambe was a founder of the West Homestead Baking Company, which was supported by twenty more Bulgarian and Macedonian immigrants. Located next door to the Center, they operated well into the 1960s, providing bread and baked goods to the city. That building has since been demolished and the land is now used as the Center’s parking lot, to which they have recently added a patio and garden.

A baker in white displays a pan of bread.

Zhelyzako “Jak” Latinov

The Baker

But that history survives to this day. Zhelyzako “Jak” Latinov moved to Pittsburgh in 2010, drawn by the support the public education system offered his kids. Jak, like many members of the Center, is part of a “new wave” of immigrants who have come from Bulgaria since the end of the Cold War. If you ask him, it is fate—his name translates, literally, to “steel”. He began his business, Jak’s Bakery, back in his home city, but it now operates out of the Center’s large, recently renovated kitchen. The Center offers it to him at a small rent, to help him build capital in America and to honor their own culinary heritage. Jak is giddy when he talks about this: “Everything is so connected. . . . I feel special when I’m saying ‘Oh, I’m a Bulgarian baker in Pittsburgh’. It’s awesome! To be part of it . . . everything’s kind of meant to happen.”

Decorative Breads, one displays a cross

The Bread

Bread is absolutely central. Bulgaria, North Macedonia, and Macedonia border each other, straddling Europe and Asia. For as long as records go back, the region has been a throughway for travelers from many disparate lands, each of whom brought a piece of their own world with them, . . . much like Pittsburgh itself, Jak wagers. Bread became a key part of this history, being the thing that locals offered the weary. “Even if you don’t have anything,” Jak says, “you always have bread and salt to share with strangers.” As well as a staple food, bread became a symbol of Bulgarian folk culture’s core value: hospitality. And Bulgarian bread takes many forms, especially at Jak’s Bakery. From layers of cheesy banitsa to jam-filled kifla crescents, Jak combines traditional recipes with local ingredients to create unique, but storied, treats. Much like Americans have birthday cakes and holiday pies, in Bulgaria, there is a bread for every occasion, including pita za proshtapulnik, a ceremonial bread prepared to celebrate the first steps of a newborn child. Layered with walnuts and sugar, traditionally, it is completed by imprinting the shape of the baby’s feet on top. Jak serves a variation, footless, as a delicious dessert.

Young costumed dancers

The School

Another recent immigrant is Nick Nedev, who has become the head of BMNECC’s Bulgarian Sunday school. Nick says that the community and focus of the Center has been vital to him as a first-generation citizen: “Being immersed in the sounds and the images that I’m used to, from my childhood, allows me to take myself back to where I was born and kinda’ charge me with energy for this quest that I’m on. Y’know, deciding to pursue a better life, in a different country, and still not forget where I came from. Just having that experience, essentially once a week, is beneficial to me. And, at the same time, it’s very important that I pass these traditions that I’m aware of—this wonderful music as well!—to my own children.”

Every week, students enrolled in the Center’s classes practice speaking Bulgarian and learn traditional folk dances. “Moving to a different country is a huge step,” Nick says, “and usually there is a sense of sadness. You miss the homeland. Places like this remind you of where you came from. At the same time, having a school for the kids is a way to not dismiss their past. Just like I am trying to teach my kids the culture and the music—that sense of pride, a lot of parents are treating the school as a way to teach their kids about where their parents are from.”

Costumed dancers pose in a line

Danka Folk Dance Ensemble

The Dancers

Frances Wieloch is not Bulgarian. She grew up in a Croatian church in Steelton, Pennsylvania, dancing. But in accordance with the Bulgarian code of folk ethics, there is a place for her at BMNECC too. Their two dance troupes—the performance-level Otets Paisii and casual Danka ensemble—focus on the traditional dances of Bulgaria, but offer membership to anyone interested in partaking. Fran is a member of both and, like many of her colleagues, is a former member of the local folk dance legends, the Tamburitzans. (Other alumni include Ed Markoff, multiple staff members, and several performers in Otets Paissii.)

“It’s definitely filled the void for me,” Fran says of BMNECC, reflecting on her participation in folk dance troupes across the world, ranging in traditions from Israeli to Ukrainian. Like many other non-Bulgarians, Fran is drawn to this folk dance—called horo, in Bulgarian—because of its unique rhythms. While American music traditionally employs time signatures like 2/4 or 3/4, Bulgarian folk music is often much faster, ranging from 5/8 to 11/16. This means that the dances are also faster and more challenging, even for veterans like Fran. This challenge has attracted many dancers and exercise enthusiasts from all around the world.

Women in traditional costumes dance together with the arms crossed in front of them.

Otets Paissii Dancers

The Dances

Despite being relatively small, Bulgaria and Macedonia are hugely diverse in their geography and culture. Within Bulgaria itself, dance styles range greatly, stemming mostly from the history and topography of the many subregions. As Bilyana Stafura explained it, there is a deep contrast between the fast-paced, highly competitive dances of the Shop region and the modest, elegant dance of Pirin, arising from exchanges with different neighboring countries and the many different contexts in which people danced. She also contrasts the light, wide dances of the Moesia plains with the subtler, smaller dances of the cold Rhodope Mountains, which follows from how the people moved through the different landscapes and different histories. This variety also shows through in Otets Paisii’s costumes, which are based on the clothing rural Bulgarians would have worn in their daily lives. Performances that draw heavily from Moesian dance styles will favor lighter clothing, while performances focused on Rhodope will tend towards heavy, chill-friendly costumes. In a way, each dance performance serves to symbolically recreate the homeland on any stage—adopting the wardrobe and even the physical postures of daily life there, though with a theatrical flourish.

About 60 dancers pose for a group photo.

The Ensemble

The Choreographer

As artistic director, Bilyana shapes every Otets Paisii performance. In each show, she tries to incorporate styles from as many of the different folklore regions of Bulgaria as possible, as well as some contemporary movement, while honoring the unique traditions of each. She describes the steps in a performance as part of a “dance vocabulary.” Like learning a language, performers begin by carefully memorizing the physical actions of each step, then slowly piecing them together into routines and then routines into performances. “You have to learn the letters before you can learn the words,” Bilyana says, “and then you can arrange them in a sentence. Before you can write the novel, you need the basic foundations. So, in dance, we learn the foundation. Then we expand on it. We expand the vocabulary. And then we write the poem—we do the dance.”

Since taking charge of the troupe in 2008, Bilyana has worked with Otets Paisii to stage annual shows that are accurate to Bulgarian culture, entertaining to audiences, and collaboratively challenging to the dancers. Bilyana has been dancing all her life, having trained at two national academies back in Bulgaria: “I was five, sitting and watching my brother dancing, and my feet were just going. And the dance teacher told my mother, she will be a dancer!” Just as BMNECC has sought to maintain the folk dances brought over by immigrants to America, in Bulgaria, the government established national academies and dance troupes to professionalize the art. Recent years have also seen a resurgence in informal interest and practice in horo within the Bulgarian people.

A woman sings with three musicians behind here

A Musical Performance

The People’s Songs

Bilyana has danced these dances her whole life. “For me, half of my soul is in the folklore,” she says, “It’s how I was able to connect with others, how I was able to find myself as a person, how I was able to cope in life.”

These traditions are held onto, most of the members agree, because they are at once expressive and communal. “It’s community, 100%,” folk musician and frequent player at the Center, Paul Stafura, explains. “It’s the community, and it’s the culture, and it’s the people!” He has played Eastern European ethnic music all his life, in many different venues, and greatly enjoys the niche audiences he performs for.

“People are interested in what you’re doing. . . . They request songs, the whole thing. I think that’s a powerful experience. Most musicians would agree, especially in an ethnic context, that once you get in a crowd, and the crowd’s around you, and everybody’s singing the same songs and they’re arm-in-arm, arms on the shoulders, whatever—it’s a special moment.”

To the patrons of the Bulgarian Macedonian Center, these traditions are alive and vital, connecting them to their ancestry and to the here and now. To the musicians who play there, their audiences are friends that they know well and understand what they are seeking. “We call them ‘people songs’,” says Nick Nedev, “Y’know, the folk songs. Those are the ones that have existed for hundreds of years, and we all know them, and we’re all able to sing them. When a song like that comes on, and you look around, you can definitely see people appreciating it. You can almost just nod at them and it’s like, ‘Yep! I got you.’ It’s an unsaid experience, an unspoken experience.”

Ed Markoff stands in front of a mural of dancers in the countryside.

Ed Markoff with the mural featuring dancers at the BMNECC.

The People’s Center

When I visited the BMNECC this fall, I walked in to see the students of a weekly conga class filter out. The Center is available for anyone to rent and often hosts events featuring other forms of folk music, especially other Eastern European bands. As Ed puts it, the Center is focused on “unity in diversity.” This attitude means that, while Pittsburgh’s Bulgarian and Macedonian population have never been relatively large, it has always been the center of the traditional arts scene. Many members recall the Pittsburgh Folk Festival, where immigrant cultures from around the city would gather together to put on public performances and cultural displays. Every year, the crowd would consume huge music halls or the massive convention center, only to end up back at the annual BMNECC afterparty.

“You bring an instrument, you got in for free,” Fran Wieloch recalls, “because you got up on stage and played! Everybody came, everybody played anything. So there was this sense of community, an ethnic community, that the Bulgarian Center fostered. And I think that is part of Bulgarian traditions—to be welcoming. It transcends over to how they live and how they present themselves with culture.” Ed states it more simply: “You never have a bad time at the Bulgarian Macedonian Center.”

It is my belief that BMNECC will celebrate its 92nd anniversary next year because of this, more than anything: because they understand that, if these traditions are to survive—in this place or any place—they are to survive together, in mutual appreciation and respect. Because that is what a tradition exists for. That is what a community exists for. And that, if I may editorialize a bit, is what life exists for.

I wish you all happy holidays, and I thank you for a wonderful year.

Read more in the Heritage Highlights series. Check out this story about the Greensboro Pennsylvania Art Cooporative.

Making Spirits Bright

By Blog

Festive cocktails from the Krampus, Baby pop-up bar at Lorelei, Photo: Tom O’Connor/ Lorelei Instagram @loreleipgh

By Brianna Horan, Manager of Tourism & Visitor Experience

Brianna Horan

Making Spirits Bright—A Tasty Holiday Happenings Guide

In this companion piece to our Ultimate Holiday Happenings Guide, we share local restaurants, breweries, and distilleries that are capturing the spirit of the season with special menus and offerings. Raise a glass of cheer, or take a warm meal home to go and and be fueled by the holiday spirit!

Holiday Happy Hour Hike through Downtown Pittsburgh

Looking for the best of the holiday sights, bites, and sips in the city? NEXTPittsburgh’s Sally Quinn created a 12-stop jaunt through downtown to make sure you don’t miss a thing. Take a Holiday Happy Hour Hike.

Hop Farm Brewing Company, Photo courtesy @hopfarmbrewing Instagram

Hop Farm Brewing’s Hip-Hop Holiday

5601 Butler Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15201

This Lawrenceville Brewery’s holiday party on December 17 features throwback hip-hop jams from DJ Femi & DJ Big Phil, along with a beer release, cocktails, and holiday fun. Pfeffernusse Stout, inspired by the traditional German spiced cookie, debuts this evening. Portions of the proceeds will be donated to Alle-Kiski Hope Center. Event Details.

Holiday Pop-Up Bars

Various Locations

An array of festive spots appear for the holiday season, with the halls decked and cozy cocktails at the ready. Many pop-up holiday bars collect donations for charities or contribute portions of their profits to organizations in need.

NEXTPittsburgh has a round-up of five favorite spots to celebrate the season.

Kingfly Spirits image by Rachelle Horning

New Offerings at Kingfly Spirits

2613 Smallman Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15222

Warm up the holidays with a special treat from Kingfly Spirits. Stop by their Strip District distillery and tasting room to get your hands on a bottle of Nocino, their take on the classic Italian liqueur, featuring hand harvested green walnuts, clove, Tanzanian dark roast coffee beans, and panela. It’s a limited run—one not offered via their website—so perhaps it’s just that something special you’ve been looking for to gift this season. If walnuts are not your thing, Kingfly has a plethora of tasty, new spirits to try, including Chamomile Liqueur, Orange Liqueur, Coffee Liqueur, Rye Whiskey, and Gin. Info about each of these spirits is available on their website.

Lorelei Pittsburgh is getting in the spirit with their Krampus, Baby pop-up bar
Photo: Lorelei Pittsburgh Instagram, @loreleipgh

Krampus, Baby Holiday Pop-Up Bar at Lorelei

124 S Highland Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15206

Those on the “naughty” list will feel right at home in this seasonal pop-up inspired by the horned character from Alpine folklore! Leave it to Krampus to deal with the children who have misbehaved throughout the year, while you enjoy wood-fired pizzas, cocktails, and mocktails—and resolve to be better next year! Website and more info from Good Food Pittsburgh.

La Prima Espresso Co.’s Buon Natale 2021 Blend

Various Locations

To celebrate the winter holidays, La Prima’s head roaster crafts a cozy coffee blend each year. Buon Natale 2021 enters the palate as smooth dark fruit, mellows with a hint of rosemary, and finishes with comforting cacao—a friendly medium roast. Website.

Penn Brewery’s St. Nikolaus Bock

800 Vinial Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15212

This rich, strong, malty lager is a seasonal tradition at this German-style brewery. Website.

Puppuccino Boutique’s gift boxes have you covered if you need to deliver some puppy love!
Photo: Puppuccino Boutique’s Instagram, @puppuccinoboutique

Puppaccino Boutique Gift Box

Four-legged friends deserve something sweet this time of year, too! Pittsburgh-based Puppuccino Boutique has you covered with their gift boxes, which include two dozen baked treats, available in flavors like baked sweet potato cinnamon, or baked peanut butter bacon. Website or Instagram.

Seasonal Sipping at BrewDog Outpost Pittsburgh

144 Centre Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15206

Cozy up at this local outpost of Scottish Brewing Company BrewDog, and enjoy festive beers like Hoppy Christmas, Ginger All the Way, and more on tap. Website.

Shell’s Sweets & Treats’ Sweet Potato Red Velvet Pies

500 Pine Hollow Rd., McKees Rocks, PA 15136

Can’t decide whether you want to serve sweet potato pie or red velvet cake at your holiday gathering? Shell’s Sweets & Treats has combined them both in one delicious dessert!

Threadbare Cider House & Meadery’s holiday flavors make a great gift for friends—or yourself!
Photo: Threadbare Cider House Instagram, @threadbarecider

Threadbare Cider House & Meadery’s Frost & Sip Events

1291 Spring Garden Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15212

Frost festive Christmas-themed cookies at Threadbare Cider House & Meadery in Spring Garden, where you’ll learn how to make and color royal icing, and then practice techniques like outlining, flooding, and wet-on-wet decorating. Events on December 16 & 22. Threadbare is also serving up seasonal ciders, like Pomegranate, Sweet Cranberry, and Gingerbread. Event website.

As the manager of tourism and visitor experience for Rivers of Steel, Brianna Horan is always discovering new things to do throughout the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area—and getting to know its people! Check out her Ultimate Holiday Happensing Guide.

Community Spotlight: Center of Life and CMU Create Urban Furniture in Hazelwood Green

By Blog

By Gita Michulka, Contributing Writer   |   Image: Project partners from Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Architecture and Hazelwood’s Arts Excursions Unlimited pose with the newly installed Rocking Cradles in Hazelwood Green, a project created in partnership with Center of Life and supported with funding from Rivers of Steel’s Mini-Grant Program. Photo by Lake Lewis.

Community Spotlight

The Community Spotlight series features Rivers of Steel’s partner organizations whose work contributes to the vibrancy of the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area.

Center of Life and CMU Team Up to Create Urban Furniture for Environmental Justice in Hazelwood Green

When an object is created with a 3D printer, it is built up layer by layer, each one supporting the next. The same can be said for Center of Life’s urban furniture project in Hazelwood Green—a collaborative project built from the ground up, quite literally, with community members, artists, and nonprofit and university partners each supporting the layers of the work.

With funding from River of Steel’s Mini-Grant Program, Rocking Cradle—Urban Furniture for Environmental Justice took shape over the last year. These 3D-printed cradle rockers are embedded with community-created art and will serve as both seating and planters for native species. Through the design process, the team also took a deep look at the environmental impacts of industry on the landscape with a vision for how things can be created in a beneficial way moving forward.

A computer created diagram showing different perspective of the cradles.

Rocking Cradle Concept Drawings (Courtesy of and copyright by Dana Cupkova)

Development Without Displacement

“The Hazelwood Green development has become a huge development property in Pittsburgh, and now that we see more and more things happening, more and more businesses establishing themselves there, the project [was pitched] to create a communal space where everyone in the community could use that space,” says Patrick Ohrman, development manager at Center of Life.

Rocking Cradle was conceived as a collaboration. Center of Life partnered with Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Architecture, led by Dana Cupkova, associate professor, track chair for the Master of Science in Sustainable Design program and a design director of EPIPHYTE Lab, and Arts Excursions Unlimited (AEU), an artist studio based in Hazelwood and led by Edith Abeyta.

“Our intention, with the artistic guidance of Edith and in collaboration with Center of Life, was to create meaningful pathways for Hazelwood youths to have a presence in the current development of Hazelwood Green,” says Cupkova. “This co-authorship would embody their voice present through the combined language of art and ecology, and that would project into the future of development at the site.”

This project was not only supported by funding from Rivers of Steel’s Mini-Grant Program, but also by matching funds from industry ExOne and a research grant from Manufacturing Futures Institute.

A woman and a girl work at a computer together.

Students with Center of Life help conceive the project at CMU.

Hazelwood Green’s Post-Industrial Landscape

Hazelwood, a Monongahela River community sandwiched between its industrial neighbors in the South Side and Homestead, was once home to several Jones & Laughlin Steel Company industrial plants and was a hub of industry. The area produced so much steel it necessitated the installation of the Hot Metal Bridge, which became the second most heavily guarded piece of infrastructure in the United States during WWII. The adjacent neighborhood swelled to over 13,000 residents up until the 1980s, but with the decline of the steel industry that number has dwindled to less than 6,000.

Since the early 2000s, the brownfield site along the river has undergone significant remediation, including the installation of a nursery in Hazelwood Green by the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, where the cradle rockers are installed.

“Hazelwood built a large portion of Pittsburgh utilizing the former steel mill on the Hazelwood Green site,” notes Ohrman. “Visiting the site to see this installation and all of the new development is an opportunity for people to really understand the history of Hazelwood and where it’s been and where it’s going now. And so instead of the site being more closed off… you know, you can walk to it, there are bike lanes down there, and we want people to feel welcome to it. We always say, we don’t want development to happen to Hazelwood, we want it to happen through Hazelwood.”

A multicultural group pose with the installation.

From left to right: Samuara Green (Arts Excursions Unlimited), Longney Luk, (School of Architecture CMU, graduate student), Dana Cupkova (School of Architecture CMU, associate professor), Kirman Hanson (School of Architecture CMU, graduate student), Edith Abeyta (Arts Excursions Unlimited and Center of Life), Matthew Huber (School of Architecture CMU, adjunct professor), Tayshaun Watkins (Arts Excursions Unlimited), Louis Suarez (School of Architecture CMU, graduate student). Photo by Lake Lewis.

Forging Connections

Center of Life has been active in Hazelwood as a community empowerment organization since 2001. In the 20 years since, they have engaged K–12 students, their families, and the community at large to provide diverse educational and art opportunities while also advocating for inclusive development of Hazelwood.

“As we started to craft this project—we’ve always had a great relationship with Carnegie Mellon University; they’ve always been willing to help us out in various ways, whether that’s dedicated to programming for kids, allowing students to learn from them, especially as Pittsburgh becomes more of a tech city,” says Ohrman.

“We wouldn’t have been able to afford the 3D printing without this Mini-Grant. And CMU felt it was a natural partnership to tap into in order to complete this project. When we start to have a presence down there [at Hazelwood Green] then the community can start to trust and realize that this isn’t happening without the voices of Hazelwood.”

A woman with salt and pepper hair poses with two black teens, who are sitting on the rocking cradle.

Abeyta had help with this project from two high school students enrolled in the Start on Success program. Photo by Lake Lewis.

This trust included the leadership of Edith and the involvement of AEU programming to engage Hazelwood youth in the design process as well. Working with Center of Life’s Fusion after-school program, Abeyta held workshops with students ages 5–17 twice a week to generate the text that is embedded on the rockers. The students went on photography walks around the neighborhood to capture handwritten text found on buildings and landmarks; they participated in Mad Libs-style exercises, working together to fill in the text components; and they spent time looking at specific contemporary African American artists who primarily work with text, all to generate visual content that was meaningful to the community.

“Through this art-making and design process, and working with the CMU School of Architecture, solutions, innovation, and advanced manufacturing, as well as social justice and environmental issues, are embedded in the work…it’s a great project that pulls all this content together, not just in the end-result, but also throughout the process,” says Abeyta.

After they drafted initial designs, the participating teens traveled to CMU with Edith and Dana to brainstorm and refine the designs. The students were given an intro and exposure to the 3D design process and helped finalize the pieces that would ultimately be printed from sand and installed on site.

Urban Furniture for Environmental Justice

Cupkova notes the significance of the project from an ecological viewpoint as well. “The 3D printing process is part of a bigger research trajectory that reconsiders the lifecycle of construction and contributes to carbon reduction through design of innovative ecologically conscious materials, while using construction waste to intelligently shape future environments.”

As Hazelwood Green grows, it is fitting for this kind of forward-thinking development to occur on the site of a former industry hub. And it is the hope of community leaders like Center of Life and AEU that other outside organizations take note.

“If we look at how Center of Life operates,” says Ohrman, “we have a blueprint for how communities and nonprofit organizations can forge great partnerships with larger entities like universities or businesses or other non­profit partners. And really when you work together rather than in silos, we see there’s a lot of development that happens.”

About the Mini-Grant Program

Rivers of Steel’s Mini-Grant Program assists heritage-related sites and organizations as well as municipalities within the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area to develop new and innovative programs, partnerships, exhibits, tours, and other initiatives. Funded projects support heritage tourism, enhance preservation efforts, involve the stewardship of natural resources, encourage outdoor recreation, and include collaborative partnerships. Through these efforts, Rivers of Steel seeks to identify, conserve, promote, and interpret the industrial and cultural heritage that defines southwestern Pennsylvania.

The Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area is one of twelve supported by the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR). Funding is provided via DCNR’s Community Conservation Partnerships Program and the Environmental Stewardship Fund to Rivers of Steel, which administers the Mini-Grant Program. Center of Life is one of six organizations who received Mini-Grant funding through this program in 2021.

Gita Michulka is a Pittsburgh-based marketing and communications consultant with over 15 years of experience promoting our region’s arts, recreation, and nonprofit assets.  

If you’d like to know more about community projects supported by the Mini-Grant Program, read Gita’s recent article about the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum.

A large Christmas Tree and people ice skating

The Ultimate Holiday Happenings Guide for Southwestern Pennsylvania

By Blog

The UPMC Rink at PPG Place by Kurt Miller.

By Brianna Horan, Manager of Tourism & Visitor Experience

Brianna HoranThe Ultimate Holiday Happenings Guide for the Rivers of Steel Heritage Area

Holiday merriment brings light and warmth as the nights grow longer and the air turns frosty around the winter solstice. ’Tis the season—and however you celebrate it, there’s a lot of fun to be had in the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area! We’ve assembled the ultimate guide to events and activities happening throughout the region over the next month, which range from classic observances to new twists on tradition!

As you make your plans, be sure to check the organization’s website and social media to stay informed of updates to pandemic safety protocols.

We wish you all a healthy and happy holiday season around the Heritage Area!

Events: December 4, 2021

AWC Community Day: Holiday Edition at the August Wilson African American Cultural Center

This family-focused party at the August Wilson African American Cultural Center is filled with festivities indoors and outside, including performances by the Center’s hip-hop campers, Brandon Terry’s Fusion Illusion Band, Kwanzaa drummers and dancers, a choir, and a DJ. There’s a Kwanzaa educational workshop, a visit from Santa, and a free hot chocolate bar!

Event website and Facebook page.

Chanukah Bash hosted by Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, Young Adult Division

Join Pittsburgh’s young adult community for an evening of joy and light to celebrate Chanukah at Iron City Circus Arts in Pittsburgh’s South Side. Attendees will enjoy an open bar, hot donuts from Bella Christie, music, aerial dancers, and more. Capacity is limited and advance registration is recommended.

Event website.

Chanukah Celebration: Light Up Night 7 hosted by the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh

All are invited to this free, family-friendly program at the JCC in Squirrel Hill. There will be crafts, games, and sufganiyot (Israeli donuts!), followed by Havdalah and a Chanukah candle lighting. Attendees are asked to bring a new, unwrapped toy to be distributed through the Christian Church of Wilkinsburg to children who celebrate Christmas.

Event website.

Two young girls and their mom talk to Santa.

Christmas at Old Economy Village

Events: December 4 – 5, 2021

Christmas at the Village at Old Economy Village

Walk along a candlelit cobblestone street and visit the historic buildings with interpreters eager to show off wares from the nineteenth century. People looking for last-minute gift ideas will find unique handmade items for sale by vendors. Local choirs will be performing. Children’s crafts and activities along with Belsnickel, a fur-clad companion to St. Nicholas from German folklore, will be found in the Granary. Food is available for purchase.

Event website.

Christmas on the Farm at Freedom Farms

This Valencia farm will have local Christmas trees and wreaths available for purchase, along with food, face painting, and access to the petting zoo and corn pit. Santa will be at the farm, along with dozens of handmade product vendors for special holiday gifts.

Event website.

Christmas Open House at the Greene County Historical Society

Enjoy an old-fashioned Christmas at the museum with visits by Santa, decorations, and more in Waynesburg.

Event website.

Greedy Christmas at Diamond Theatre of Ligonier

This hilarious original production takes us to Miami, where the December temps are high, and people’s greed is causing chaos—even Santa Claus finds himself in legal trouble. Judge Jude E. might be able to save Christmas—or make it worse!

Event website.

Santa & Mrs. Claus with cute kids on their lap

2021 Christmas Festival at Shady Elms in Hickory.

Shady Elms Farm Christmas Festival

Kick off your Christmas celebrations with Santa, Mrs. Claus, Buddy the Elf, and many more characters at this farm in Hickory, Washington County.  Check out the food trucks, private workshops, and local small business vendors!

Event website.

Vandergrift Back When Holiday Extravaganza

Head to Vandergrift, on the northern edge of Westmoreland County, to enjoy activities for the whole family, including a parade, craft and food vendors, live entertainment, a cookie contest, caroling, Christmas trivia, a gingerbread house contest, and more.

Event website.

Events: December 5, 2021

Bushy Run Children’s Christmas Party

Look forward to games, crafts, entertainment, and a visit from Santa at this site of a pivotal battle fought between the British and Native Americans during the conflict known as Pontiac’s War in 1763 in what is today Jeannette, Westmoreland County. The party is intended for children ages 5 to 12 years.

Event website.

Chanukah Games at Temple David

Temple David in Monroeville welcomes spectators to cheer on teams of all ages as they participate in a variety of fun activities and challenges to earn points and win prizes! The closing ceremony and Chanukkiah lighting will also be streamed on Zoom.

Event website.


Items on a shelf

Made in the U.S.A. holiday toys.

A Local Santa’s Workshop with Channel Craft Toys at the Westmoreland History Education Center

Since 1983, Dean Helfer, Jr., has kept alive the tradition of wooden toys, games, and puzzles with his “Made in the USA” company, Channel Craft, in Charleroi, PA. Items are tailor-made for thousands of specialty toy and gift stores, museums, parks, and attractions. Join Dean for an informative talk about his business, along with toy demonstrations and giveaways. This presentation is great for adults and children alike.

Event website.

Events: December 6, 2021

Hazelwood’s Light Up Night

The snowflake lights on Second Avenue will be aglow, and businesses all along Hazelwood’s main street will have music, food, and activities for the whole family. Enjoy live music and food trucks, along with lawn games, face painting, balloon arts, horse and buggy rides, live ice carving, a photo booth with fairytale princesses and superheroes, and more! It’s also the perfect time to check out the Illumin-Ave art project, which features a series of five light and art installations along Second Avenue through January 31, 2022.

Event website.

Krampus Fest 2021

Maybe you’re not on the “nice” list this year—Krampus Fest is the place for you. Live music and festivities abound in Market Square in downtown Pittsburgh, where Krampus will also visit to bring coal and pose for socially-distanced photos. True to German Alpine folklore, Krampus is a horned, anthropomorphic figure who deals with the children who have misbehaved while Saint Nicholas brings gifts for those on the “nice” list.

Event Facebook page.

a fireplace and table adorned with christmas decor

Three Centuries of Christmas

Event: December 11, 2021

Three Centuries of Christmas

Discover how American Christmas traditions changed over three centuries on this special holiday tour of Historic Hanna’s Town. Costumed guides lead you through buildings from the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries that are adorned in period-correct decorations and share stories of Christmases past. When people came to America, they brought the traditions from their homeland with them. Learn about the origins of the Christmas tree, the tradition of mailing cards, the evolution of Santa Claus, and so much more while enjoying the historical ambiance of Hanna’s Town and sampling holiday treats.

Event website.

Event: December 12, 2021

A Magical Wurlitzer Christmas at Lincoln Hall in Foxburg

Travel just north of Heritage Area to Clarion county to give yourself the gift of A Magical Wurlitzer Christmas with the keyboard artistry of the Dave Wickerham on Sunday, December 12 at 2 p.m. in Foxburg’s Lincoln Hall. One of the preeminent theatre organists acclaimed internationally, Dave Wickerham performs his theatre organ arrangements of Christmas carols, anthems, and joyous holiday songs.

Event website.

Events: December 14, 2021

Fused Glass Poinsettia Workshop at Main Exhibit Gallery & Art Center

Head out to Ligonier, Westmoreland County, to learn how to cut basic glass shapes and layer them to fuse a poinsettia suncatcher. Assemble your own design to be fired in the kiln that evening, and then pick up your beautiful glass art the next day.

Event website.

Remembering the McGinnis Sisters: Food & Family Stories, presented virtually by the Senator John Heinz History Center

Take part in a discussion of food traditions and innovations with one of Pittsburgh’s most renowned food families, the McGinnises. The McGinnis Sisters were recognized as one of the region’s early leaders in the gourmet and specialty food business, and visiting their store was a holiday staple for generations of Pittsburghers to find special ingredients for traditional foods. The conversation will be led by Dr. Ashley Rose Young, Food Historian at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History and daughter of Sharon McGinnis Young. Joining the discussion are McGinnis sisters Bonnie McGinnis Vello and Noreen McGinnis Campbell, as well as Jennifer Daurora, part of the third generation who ran the family business.

Event website and registration.

Event: December 17 – 19, 2021

The Nutcracker Ballet at State Theatre Center for the Arts

The State Theatre in Uniontown, Fayette County is proud to produce the annual production of The Nutcracker Ballet featuring local dancers of all ages performing the classic story to Tchaikovsky’s beautiful score, choreographed by Donna Marovic. Make this beautiful production of The Nutcracker part of your family holiday tradition with this beautiful performance!

Event website.

Events: December 18, 2021

Carnegie Christmas with Goats

Enjoy a day in Carnegie with the family, and get your photo taken with Santa and a goat! Enter your pet in a costume contest, do some holiday shopping, and listen to caroling throughout the day. In the evening, a Wassail Walk features adult beverages and an ugly sweater contest.

Event website.

Two actors in holiday costumes mug for the camera.

Holidays Around the World

Holidays Around the World at Community Library of Allegheny Valley

Bring the kids and celebrate holiday traditions from around the globe in Natrona Heights, with Bright Star Theatre. Join Nick and Joy in their quest to make it home for the holidays. Winter traditions and holidays are celebrated in this show. From Kwanzaa to Christmas to The Festival of Lights, this unique production offers people a look into the celebrations that occur around the globe during this special time of year. Suggested for grades K & up. Registration required due to limited space.

Event website.

The Mexican War Streets Winter Wonderland Extravaganza

The Mexican War Streets Society welcomes all to this Victorian neighborhood on Pittsburgh’s North Side for a picturesque evening stroll of lights, decorations, and community cheer to highlight the area’s history.

Event Facebook page.

Event: December 20, 2021

Cookie Swap at the Carnegie of Homestead

Bring your favorite holiday cookies to share with your community and build a unique cookie tray with baked goods from other bakers in the Adult Reading Room at the Carnegie of Homestead.

Event website.

Event: December 26, 2021

Kwanzaa Queen at Painting with a Twist

Get creative at Painting with a Twist in Pittsburgh’s South Side, where you’ll paint a Kwanzaa-inspired design on a canvas or wood plank board to decorate your home.

Event website.

Event: December 28, 2021

Winter Warm-Up Hike with the Wampum Chapter of the North Country Trail Association

You’ll get nice and toasty on a four-mile hike along the North Country Trail. Meet up at the Darlington Trailhead, where you’ll be shuttled to Hodgson Road before hiking back to Darlington, where a hot cocoa bar, pastries, and snacks will be waiting for you.

Facebook event.

Event: December 29, 2021

Holiday Family Day at Westmoreland Historical Society

The Westmoreland Historical Society welcomes all ages to Historic Hanna’s Town for a fun day of activities celebrating winter and the holiday season. There will be winter crafts, cookie decorating, history-themed story time, and musical interludes. Demonstrations of holiday celebrations in the late 18th century take place fireside at Hanna’s Tavern, and walking paths are open for self-guided tours of holiday history. The Westmoreland History Shop will also have holiday items on sale at 40% off.

Event website.

Events: December 31, 2021

Highmark First Night Pittsburgh

Ring in the new year at this free, family-focused evening of outdoor performances, hands-on fun, and fireworks to start 2022 on a celebratory note. The night begins with fireworks at 6 p.m. for kids with early bedtimes, and ends with the grand finale fireworks at midnight.

Event details.

a crowd of people in the snow by a clocktowner and with a ball dropping

New Year’s Eve, 2019 at Historic Harmony

Silvester New Year’s Eve in Harmony

Harmony is a town with deep German roots, and the Harmony Museum invites one and all to celebrate Silvester and the arrival of the new year at 6:00 p.m. on December 31—when it’s midnight in Germany! The Silvester celebration, so named by Germans because New Year’s Eve is also the feast day of Pope Sylvester I, kicks off with a 5K run / walk & 1-mile fun run. Afterwards, gather at the Harmony Museum lot for a Christmas Tree Toss as well as a kid’s wreath toss, and enjoy the warmth exuding from the Gluhwein (mulled wine) Hut. A take-out pork & sauerkraut dinner can be ordered ahead, and there will be music in the town square. Stick around for the ball will drop and fireworks will glow at 6 p.m.!

Event information.

Ongoing Events

Allegheny County’s Holiday Music Program

The sounds of the season will fill the Grand Staircase of the Allegheny County Courthouse (436 Grant St., Pittsburgh, PA 15222), where high school orchestras, jazz ensembles, choruses, choirs, and bands will perform throughout December. Audiences are invited to participate in the Holiday Project to provide holiday gifts to children in families receiving Department of Human Services support.

Performance Schedule and Details.

The Black Market: Holiday Edition

This pop-up market supports and showcases Black-owned businesses from around the region and is a buzzing destination in Downtown Pittsburgh during the holiday season, located at 623 Smithfield St. December 4, 5, 11, and 12, 2021.

Event website and vendor list.

A Creepy Christmas at The ScareHouse

Pittsburgh’s scariest haunted house is filled with creepy toys and evil elves to torment naughty boys and girls as The ScareHouse opens for the season December 10, 11, 17, and 18, 2021. Parental discretion is advised for children under 13.

Event website.

A picture of Henry Overholt on the wal with a hurrican lamp lit in front of it and some festive trimmings nearby.

Christmas by Candlelight at West Overton

Christmas by Candlelight at West Overton Museums

This year, Christmas will look a little different at West Overton! Take a candlelit tour of the 1830s Overholt home on Saturdays and Sundays in December. Enjoy historically accurate decor as you learn the development of some of our most beloved Christmas traditions and how the Overholts celebrated (or not!) in the 1800s. As you tour room to room, follow their traditions over the century and learn about Christmas in southwestern PA as far back as 1800, the lore of gift givers like Belsnickel and Santa Claus, and the origins of other customs. There will be tasty treats and warming drinks, along with the opportunity to sample and purchase a bottle of the first whiskey made at West Overton since Prohibition. Advance tickets are recommended due to limited capacity.

Event website.

Christmas with Santa & Alpacas at WestPark Alpacas

Have your picture taken with Santa and his alpaca helpers in Slippery Rock! You may roam the pastures with the alpacas while feeding them treats! The shop will be open for your alpaca Christmas shopping. Open December 11, 18, 19, 22, and 23, 2021.

Event website.

Gingerbread House Contest in Ligonier Town Hall

Visit Ligonier Town Hall at 120 E Main St., Ligonier, PA 15658, to create your own gingerbread house, or vote for your favorite from December 3 – 12, 2021.

Event website.

Holiday Lights at Kennywood Park

Stroll among more than one million twinkling lights, and marvel at the tallest Christmas tree in the state of Pennsylvania, surrounded by the nostalgia of Kennywood Park. There are rides for the kids and special entertainment for all, along with festive new foods and holiday drinks. Ongoing, select nights through January 2.

Event website.

Winter Flower Show and Light Garden at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens

The gardens are aglow at Phipps Conservatory for the winter flower show, Sparkle and Shine! Enjoy holiday trees, topiaries, detailed scenes, and more than 1,600 poinsettias. This year marks the return of the Winter Light Garden, with luminous orbs, trees, fountains, a tunnel of lights, and an all-new ice castle display.

Event website.

Holiday KidsPlay Selfie Garden in the Heinz Hall Courtyard

Take fun family selfies with cutouts and character standees from your favorite Fred Rogers Productions children’s TV series, open daily through December 28, with story times on select Sundays.

Event website.

Model Train Exhibits

Model railroaders are passionate about their craft all year round, but many welcome the public to enjoy the scenes in miniature that they recreate with loving detail.

NextPittsburgh highlights five of them here.

Penguins on Parade at the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium

Cold-loving penguins are always dressed for winter weather, and on weekends through February 27 they’ll take a walk to explore the world outside of the PPG Aquarium—as long as the weather is below 45 degrees and nonhazardous.

Event information.

Pittsburgh's skyline at dusk with a Christmas Tree at Point State Park

Pittsburgh’s Skyline at Christmas by JP Diroll

People’s Gas Holiday Market

Shop from more vendors than ever before as you stroll through an illuminated Market Square at the tenth annual Peoples Gas Holiday Market, weaving through wooden chalets brimming with high-quality gifts and holiday experiences uniquely filled with international flair and local charm. This is the 10th Anniversary of the Market, which is open daily through December 23.

Event website and vendor list.

 Pittsburgh Creche Display in Downtown Pittsburgh

The Pittsburgh Creche is the only authorized replica of the Nativity scene that Saint John Paul II commissioned for the Vatican, and 2021 marks the 23rd year that it’s been on display in Pittsburgh. The 30-ton structure is assembled at U.S. Steel Plaza by labor union volunteers, serving to train apprentice carpenters. Display information, featuring a 3-D model.

 Pittsburgh Cultural District’s Holiday Performances

Downtown Pittsburgh’s Cultural District is filled with cheer and festive performances across its many theaters and venues. Get in the spirit and enjoy the arts—check the performance schedule here.

A Santa waves from a Trolley.

Santa Trolley at the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum

Santa Trolley at the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum

The Pennsylvania Trolley Museum’s stockings are hung by the trolleys with care with the knowledge that Santa Claus will soon be there! The man in red will join visitors for a ride aboard a beautifully restored antique streetcar in Washington, and visitors can also marvel at a large Lionel toy train layout and LEGO display by Steel City Lug. Children can make a craft, and all are welcome to enjoy complimentary hot chocolate and cookies.

Event website.

The Strand Theater’s Holiday Events

This restored classic theater on Zelienople’s main street has a festive line-up of live performances and movies this season.

Event Listing.

The UPMC Rink at PPG Place

This outdoor ice skating rink is back for its 20th year, surrounded by the sparkling spires of PPG Place. Tuesdays are family nights, with one child admitted free with each adult admission.

Event website.

Vanka Murals Holiday Lights Tours

The Millvale Murals of Maxo Vanka are a sight to be seen any time of year, but during the holiday season St. Nicholas Croatian Catholic Church is dressed in its Christmas best for an especially festive experience. You’re invited to celebrate the season with the Vanka Murals and a docent-led tour with all the trimmings on the following dates: December 26, 27, 28, 29, and 30, and January 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6. The 60-minute tours begin at 7:00 p.m. with light refreshments served in advance. Cellist and docent David Bennett will perform before select tour dates.

A Very Merry Pittsburgh exhibit at the Senator John Heinz History Center

This special exhibition is sure to make you feel like a kid again, featuring family keepsakes and imagery that explores how western Pennsylvanians have celebrated major winter holidays, including Christmas, Hanukkah, Diwali, and Kwanzaa. There are also decorations and artifacts from department stores of Downtown Pittsburgh’s past, like Kaufmann’s, Macy’s, Horne’s, and Gimbels. Kids age 17 and younger get free admission to the History Center in December, and Santa visits on select Saturdays for socially distanced photos. Exhibition website.

Snowy landscape with a victorial greenhouse in the background.

Winterfest and Winter Lights at The Frick Pittsburgh, courtesy of The Frick Pittsburgh,

Winter Lights at The Frick Pittsburgh’s Winter Garden

Looking for an outdoor space to gather with friends and loved ones during the dark and chilly days of winter? The Frick Pittsburgh has extended their hours and decorated their beautiful grounds with live greenery—as was the Frick Family and Gilded Age custom. Twinkling lights are strung up in the grounds’ winter garden to make for magical surroundings. It all culminates in Winterfest, from December 28 to January 2, when the grounds will be alive with storytelling, carolers, wagon rides, ice skating, and more.

Information about Winter Lights. Information about Winterfest.

World’s Largest Pickle Ornament

It’s a big dill that only in Pittsburgh can you find the World’s Largest Pickle Ornament! All decked out for the holidays, the giant, three-story high Heinz pickle balloon is a sight to relish at EQT Plaza in Downtown Pittsburgh, located at 624 Liberty Ave.

Event website.

As the manager of tourism and visitor experience for Rivers of Steel, Brianna Horan is always discovering new things to do throughout the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area—and getting to know its people! Check out her itineraries for other adventures in southwestern Pennsylvania.

Photo by Askar Abayev from Pexels

Winter Holiday Cultural Heritage Recipes

By Blog

A table set for the holidays, photo by Askar Abayev (Pexels).

By Brianna Horan, Manager of Tourism & Visitor Experience

Brianna HoranWinter Holiday Cultural Heritage Recipe Box: In Case You Missed It

The holidays that mark the winter season may vary in their meaning and origins, but much of their warmth and cheer comes from the kitchen—where traditions are passed down and people tend to gather. At the end of 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic prevented many families and loved ones from celebrating together as usual, we asked people from throughout the Rivers of Steel Heritage Area to share the recipes that make it feel like the holidays to them. Our Winter Holiday Cultural Heritage Recipe Box is filled with secret ingredients, family memories, and beloved traditions from a range of faiths and backgrounds.

To the home cooks and professional chefs who shared their special dishes with us, we offer many thanks! We hope that this recipe collection will illuminate different ways to celebrate the winter holidays and that our readers enjoy a festive season with their favorite traditions—and maybe a few new ones to share with their loved ones. Happy Holidays!

Winter Holiday Cultural Heritage Recipe Box