Among the reasons the Christmas season is so appealing to so many are the events and customs that have become holiday traditions.
This region is blessed with many activities that you just don’t want to miss this season. Several did not take place last year, but are back for 2021.
Probably at the top of most Christmas bucket lists is downtown Johnstown’s Central Park.
The centerpiece of the park is a 40-foot tree decorated with 72,240 LED lights synchronized to holiday music. The animated light show runs from 5 to 11 p.m. nightly.
“We always look forward to the Christmas season because we know the joy that the Christmas Tree @ Central Park and all of our events bring to this community,” Melissa Radovanic, president of Discover Downtown Johnstown Partnership, says.
The tree has drawn ten of thousands of visitors to downtown Johnstown since it was installed in 2015.
But the tree is not the only downtown attraction. The park itself becomes a village within a city during the holiday season as dozens of tiny houses and shops line the sidewalks.
Radovanic says visitors can expect to see five new structures this year.
The buildings are decorated with lights and most have scenes and figures visible through windows and doors. Children especially love the tiny town – as it is just their size.
Central Park’s holiday display officially kicks off Nov. 19 as part of city’s Hometown Christmas Stroll and light-up night.
The stroll replaced the traditional parade last year and returns with the same format again this year.
“Last year was the first year for the Christmas Stroll and it was so well received we decided to do it again,” Sharon Honkus, DDJP committee member, says.
Rather than stand and watch a parade go by, visitors are invited to walk along Main Street where there will be vendors and musicians as well as Santa and his sleigh and giant balloons.
“We got such good feedback that people really like the concept,” Radovanic says. “We want to make it more of a festival event.”
At 8 p.m., the giant tree in the park will officially be lit.
“With the Covid-19 restrictions last year, we decided against the official light up because of the huge crowd it generates,” Honkus says. “This year, the countdown and light up will be back.
Hometown Christmas Stroll runs from 6 to 8 p.m. with the lighting of the tree scheduled for 8 p.m.
The Christmas Tree @ Central Park animated light show run from 5 to 11 p.m. daily from Nov. 19 through Jan. 7. Last lights will be from 5 to 7 p.m. Jan. 8.
Other downtown highlights
Several other activities will center around Central Park over the holidays.
Children and parents can hop aboard the Christmas Express from 5 to 8 p.m. Dec. 10 and 11 for a ride around the park.
This year, the train is sponsored by JWF, so rides are free.
On Dec. 17, beginning at 6 p.m., visitors to the park can participate in S’mores Night and make some tasty treats. There is no charge to participate.
Radovanic says live entertainment will take place from 5 to 6 p.m. over four Saturdays in the Visit Johnstown lobby at 416 Main St.
Another tradition visitors to downtown will not want to miss is AmeriServ’s vintage animated window displays.
Set up in the bank’s main lobby, the exhibits bring back happy memories for older residents who remember seeing the same scenes as they shopped at Glosser Bros. and Penn Traffic department stores many years ago. But the displays also attract the younger ones as well and AmeriServ gets hundreds of visitors who drop by just to see the old store displays.
This year, the bank, located at the corner of Main and Franklin streets offers even more reasons to attract holiday guests.
AmeriServ has partnered with Gallery on Gazebo to present the second Festival of Trees.
A dozen trees will be displayed throughout the bank lobby and visitors are invited to cast their vote for their favorite.
The trees are created by local artists and businesses. Each vote costs a quarter with money raised going to the gallery’s continued efforts to bring art to downtown Johnstown. The winning entry receives a $100 cash prize.
AmeriServ’s doors are open to visitors from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Last year, the first Christmas Marketplace was held at Central Park. The event returns this year from 4 to 9 p.m. Dec. 3 and from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Dec. 4.
Amber Berezansky, human resources and insurance analyst at city hall, says the event is patterned after the traditional European Christmas markets and features craft and food vendors, along with family oriented activities and entertainment.
“(Last year) went very well,” Berezansky says. “We had an amazing turnout. Everyone really enjoyed the free horse and carriage rides, Santa and his helpers and of course Cindy Lou Who and the Grinch.
“The Johnstown Symphony played on Saturday morning in the gazebo. It was wonderful to have live holiday music in the park.
“It really brought great ambiance to the market and downtown.
“We’re hoping to add some new vendors and some new entertainment this year,” Berezansky says.
The annual Holly Bazaar is once again planned for Community Arts Center of Cambria County, located in the Westmont section of Johnstown.
The event showcases the work of area artisans and master craftsmen and also features musical entertainment and chances to win many great prizes.
The event runs Nov. 13 through Dec. 24.
Johnstown Symphony Orchestra accompanies Johnstown Symphony Chorus once again this year in a performance of Handel’s Messiah.
The evergreen holiday favorite returns Dec. 11 to Pasquerilla Performing Arts Center on the UPJ campus.
The chorus is under the direction of Jeffrey Webb and the concert highlights the voices of Molly Netter, soprano; Kristen Dubenion-Smith, mezzo-soprano; Brian Giebler, tenor; and Tyler Putnam, bass.
“There is no more complete expression of the full emotion of the holiday season than this miraculous work,” Maestro James Blachly says of the piece.
The concert begins at 7:30 p.m. and tickets range from $10 for students to $45 for premium seating. Seniors and veterans are given a $5 discount.
The Festival of the Nativity returns this year to First Presbyterian Church in downtown Johnstown.
The event features the talents of many of the region’s musicians – from full choirs to small groups.
Over 100 nativity sets, donated or on loan to the church, are on display and visitors are invited to view the impressive setup at any time during the event.
Festival of the Nativity has been presented for nearly 40 years by the congregation of the church.
There is no charge to attend as the church considers it their gift to the community.
The event, which takes place from 6 to 9 p.m. Dec. 3 through 5, traditionally ends on a triumphant note as a mass choir performs the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s Messiah.
For over 40 years, Johnstown Concert Ballet, the area’s only professional ballet company, has presented Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker.
This year, the event will be presented without the direction of Carla Prucnal, who founded the company in 1965 and passed away in December.
Most of the parts, including that of Clara, are danced by local students while some of the leading roles are performed by Point Park University students. Adult parts are filled by recognizable faces from the community.
The ballet will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 3, and at 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 4, at Pasquerilla Performing Arts Center on the Pitt-Johnstown campus.
Tickets are $18-$20.
Not only is nearby Indiana County known as the Christmas Tree Capital of the World, Jimmy Stewart, star of It’s A Wonderful Life, was born and grew up in the borough.
While the movie’s setting of Bedford Falls was not based on Indiana, it looks enough like the town that one might think they have been transported back in time – especially during the Christmas season.
Events and activities take place in the center of town as well as at the Jimmy Stewart Museum.
Light Up Ligonier takes place from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Nov. 26 in the town square.
The free event includes a small parade that ushers Santa into town.
Ligonier’s shops will be open during the event.
Ebensburg’s 16th annual Dickens of a Christmas takes place Dec. 3 to 5 in the borough.
The family oriented celebration is based on Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.
Vendors, musicians and other participants dress in period costumes.
The county courthouse is resplendent as it features decorations and a giant tree in the rotunda.
Another town you don’t want to miss during the Christmas season is Windber, located just outside of Cambria County.
It’s another town that can take you back to a simplier time and is decorated beautifully for the holidays.
It’s A Wrap
The holiday season wraps up Dec. 31 with Celebration Johnstown, now in its 13th year.
The family friendly event kicks off at 6 p.m. with entertainment at several downtown venues.
Lauren Lazarri and Theresa Subich, co-chairs for Celebration Johnstown, say the event is made possible by the support of several sponsors. “We couldn’t do it without them and our committee of volunteers,” Subich says.
Franklin Street Methodist will have musicians performing in both the nave and hall.
Tooter and Jim will be followed by Rusted Shackles, with Jeff Webb and the Delectible Sound completing the lineup in the main worship space of the historic church.
In the hall, Tom Katz will be followed by Hard Rock, Coco and Joe. In years’ past the two groups performed at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, a venue that is not able to participate this year.
A new venue – 412 Main Street – will feature Bo Moore and a trio from Johns-town Symphony Choir.
At the library, Johnstown Symphony Choir’s junior trio will perform as will Rosie and the Jammers.
The library also features a magic show with Bob Beatty, clowns, children’s activities and storytelling.
At First Presbyterian Church, visitors can listen to Jazz In Your Face. “That’s always packed,” Subich says.
AmeriServ will be open so visitors can view the vintage window displays and vote on their favorite tree.
Central Park will have the giant tree and tiny village as well as Misty Haven carriage rides.
At 9:50 p.m., visitors will be treated to a fireworks display. Subich says it can best be viewed by the post office from Prospect Hill.
“Downtown continues to grow and this is another opportunity to show people what is available downtown,” Subich says. “We are glad to be able to get together once again and celebrate New Year’s Eve. It’s a free event for the whole family without traveling too far.”
Subich says they encourage visitors to wear masks when appropriate and follow the guidelines that may be in place at the various venues.