Unique Traditions in Pennsylvania for the Whole Family
Founded by William Penn in 1682, Pennsylvania boasts a diverse and lengthy history, studded with the influence of many cultures. With the fifth largest population in the United States and 67 counties that span a wide array of topographies and communities, Pennsylvania is perfectly primed to play host to a menagerie of unique traditions, events, and destinations. Below, we’ve listed some of the more distinctive things you’ll come across in our great state, that everyone in the family can enjoy.
Dropping of the [insert funky item here] on NYE
The sparkling crystal ball in Times Square has nothing on some of the items Pennsylvania’s towns drop on New Year’s Eve. In Hanover, you’ll find a giant pretzel, in Dillsburg, a pickle! Mechanicsburg drops a wrench, while Kennett Square honors the humble mushroom. Some others throughout the state include a beaver, chocolate, a strawberry, a log of bologna, and even pants!
What better predictor of the strength and longevity of winter than a… groundhog? This celebration, which now attracts over 40,000 attendees annually, began in 1886 and has been hosted by the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club ever since. Phil, the official groundhog meteorologist, is woken from his slumber at dawn on February 2 to determine the winter weather outlook. If Phil sees his shadow, we’re destined to endure six more weeks of winter. If a shadow is not seen, it’s said that spring will come early. Also known as “Gobblers Knob,” this tiny PA town, nestled in Pennsylvania’s Lumber Heritage Region, now offers nearly a full week’s worth of fun, all groundhog themed.
The largest African American street festival in the country can be found in Philadelphia. The Odunde Festival, created in 1975 and rooted in Nigerian and West African traditions, attracts 500,000+ visitors to this one-day celebration. Taking place across 15 city blocks, the festival features performances, food, an African Marketplace, and music.
Odunde occurs on the second Sunday in June and is defined by the organizers as an all-encompassing experience, a reunion of neighbors, and a time to reflect on the immense impact that African cultures have had on our society.
Firefly Festival-Tionesta/Allegheny National Forest
There are over 15 different species of fireflies in the Allegheny National Forest and over the course of the last weekend in June, you can enjoy the beautiful glow of this unique insect during the Pennsylvania National Firefly Festival.
The firefly is the PA State Insect, and this festival not only features magical views of the thousands of fireflies during midnight forest tours, but also has evening activities that include music, art, food, and more.
100 Mile Yard Sale-Cameron/Clearfield/Elk Counties
If you love a good bargain, or are an expert haggler, then hop in the car and visit this two-day event, typically held in mid-July. Organized by the Quehanna Industrial Development Corporation, the 100 Mile Yard Sale is aptly named with more than 98 miles of continuous yard sales! The entire loop would take nearly three hours to drive and winds through three Pennsylvania counties: Cameron, Clearfield and Elk. More than 130 residents were registered to sell during 2021’s event with a wide variety of items and artisanal goods available for purchase.
Pennsylvania’s Toxic Ghost Town-Centralia
Located in Columbia County, it isn’t what you’ll see at Centralia that draws visitors—it’s what you WON’T see. Centralia is an abandoned town that sits above a seam of coal, which, at one time, was the town’s primary economic source.
In the 1960’s a fire was lit to burn the contents of the town dump. The fire spread beneath the town and throughout the entire valley. The fire continued to burn, slowly releasing toxic gases, for more than five decades. Eventually, all the residents of Centralia left and while the fire is still burning today, Centralia has largely become a destination for those who are curious about the power of nature.
Haines Shoe House-York
Located in Hellam Township, and visible from historic Route 30, the Haines Shoe House is a one-of-a-kind roadside attraction. Originally built in 1948 by Mahlon Haines, a shoe salesman, the fully equipped and fully functional house has enjoyed lives as a vacation rental, ice cream shop, and traditional residence. Today, visitors can tour the 5-story, canary yellow shoe house from March-October.
The Mütter Museum of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia features one of the finest collections of anatomical specimens, models, and medical instruments. Set-up in a 19th century style “cabinet museum” setting, the collection was established by American surgeon Thomas Dent Mütter in the 1850s. The museum’s mission is to help the public understand the human body and to appreciate and learn about the history of medical diagnosis and the treatment of disease.
A tad macabre, the Mütter museum may not be for those whose stomachs are easily turned. However, the contents of the museum are geared for a middle-to-high school level of learning and the museum welcomes anyone who wants to learn more about the wonders of the human body.
Randyland might easily be one of the most colorful spots in all of Pennsylvania. In 1995, Randy Gilson purchased a few properties on the North Side of Pittsburgh and got to work creating this colorful outdoor art studio. Bursting with murals and an eclectic collection of other art installations, Randyland is full of whimsy and subtle details that make it an immersive and truly unique experience.
Pittston Tomato Fest-Pittston
In a small town in northeastern Pennsylvania, you’ll find a festival celebrating the humble tomato. Pittston’s claim to fame is their delicious home-grown tomatoes and for nearly 40 years the food-centric, four-day festival has drawn 70,000 visitors to its streets.
You’ll find everything from tomato gelato to traditional Italian foods like tripe, ravioli, eggplant, and sausage. There’s a parade, live entertainment, even a Little Miss and Little Mr. Tomato contest! Participate in the Tomato Festival 5K to work off some of the calories and don’t miss the Best Tomato contest where the ugliest, biggest, prettiest, and tastiest tomatoes get their due.
Lewis David von Schweinitz, the Father of American Mycology (the study of fungi), was born in Bethlehem. The home he was born and raised in was constructed in 1741 and is now the location for the Moravian Museum and is a National Historic Landmark. In addition to the importance of the home for its architecture and history, the home was a part of the Moravian community, a group of about 80 people who lived, worked, and worshiped together and were some of Bethlehem’s first residents.
Visitors can tour the home and grounds and learn all about the remarkable stories behind Bethlehem’s founders, including early Moravian medicinal practices, communal living, missionary work, and a progressive educational system.
Koziar’s Christmas Village-Bernville
You might think the most Christmas-y place on Earth would be Santa’s workshop at the North Pole, right? Nope! It’s Koziar’s Christmas Village, in Bernville, Pennsylvania. With more than 1 million lights decorating the grounds, visitors enjoy dozens of hand-crafted Christmas- and winter-themed displays resplendent with glowing lights at every twist and turn.
Koziar’s was born in 1948 when William Koziar started decorating his family home. The unusual and detailed displays caught the attention of the community and his enthusiasm for Christmas decorations grew into the mega-watt attraction it is today.
Located 70 miles southeast of Pittsburgh and built for the Kaufman family in 1935, Fallingwater is one of architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s most renowned homes. Perched above an actual waterfall and constructed of native Laurel Highlands sandstone, Fallingwater was entrusted to the Western PA Conservancy by the Kaufman family in 1963 and has since been designated as both a National Historic Landmark and a Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Treasure, as well as being named the “best all-time work of American architecture” in a poll of members of the American Institute of Architects.
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