We spent the week of Thanksgiving in Pittsburgh visiting family and catching up on doctor’s appointments and other commitments. Will and I took advantage of having eager grandparents nearby and headed into the city—JUST US—for an actual date! Since COVID has a stronghold on the traditional date destinations, we ended up walking around downtown Pittsburgh to see all the holiday decorations and to get in the holiday spirit.
We started at the Crèche outside the U.S. Steel Tower. This display is the only authorized replica of the nativity scene in Rome’s Saint Peter’s Basilica and is a must-see every holiday season. The Crèche is located on Grant Street, which is along the route I used to take to my bus stop every day when I worked downtown. Passing this scene every day was such a treat around the holidays as the mood always seemed lighter and the Christmas lights everywhere always brought a certain cheer to the air. This year felt incredibly different.
Walking the streets of Pittsburgh, in the middle of the week, during what would typically be the lunch rush, right before a holiday was eerie given the empty streets and closed up storefronts. Our Tuesday early afternoon walk felt like a Sunday morning in the city. There was no one out. The fast food restaurants that would typically be bustling during the lunch rush were either empty or closed (some permanently). Many businesses were dark. Windows that would have once been decorated or at least had signs of life instead had “for lease” signs. The impact of COVID was palpable.
The week before our planned trip home, Pennsylvania revised their requirements for out-of-state travelers or residents returning home from another state (to quarantine for 14 days or provide a negative test). While there was no system in place to enforce these requirements, we opted to get tested prior to returning to Pennsylvania, as we were planning on seeing family and had to go to several appointments. The state also revised the mask mandate, which now required masks to be worn any time you were outside of your home. Coming from Tennessee where masks were not consistently seen, we were delighted that virtually everyone we saw while walking downtown was wearing a mask and abiding by social distancing.
After we visited the Crèche, we made our way down Grant Street to the courthouse, where we wandered through the courtyard to see the Christmas tree. We then walked to the City-County Building to see their large tree, which is always a treat.
From there, we walked past the old Kaufman’s building and reminisced about the Christmas displays that used to adorn every window, then made our way to Market Square, where we were surprised to see the holiday market being set up. The holiday market is always a fun place to go shopping for Christmas gifts and to get other local and handmade products, and even though they were getting it all set up, there were some definite changes from previous years. The shops were fewer and further between, and the house for Santa visits was replaced with a “Zoom with Santa” experience. The majority of the area was closed off, so we could not see if there were other changes, but it made me equally happy and concerned to see this tradition carrying on.
We picked up lunch from the Market Street Grocery, where I used to love stopping for a hot breakfast on my way to the office. We shared some General Tso’s chicken and Turner’s chocolate milk, before picking up a couple cookies from Prantl’s Bakery across the street.
After enjoying our lunch, we walked to PPG Place to see the tree and ice skaters, then made our way out to the Point. We wandered around the Point, marveling at the still waters of the Allegheny, then sat at the fountain to enjoy our cookies. The tree at the Point was not lit, but we were excited to see it as we have heard it is the last year it will be displayed.
As we walked through the city, I was reminded of the many times I have taken similar walks to these same sights to get in the holiday spirit. The first time I visited the Crèche was with my parents and two of my mom’s cousins, one of whom was our enthusiastic tour guide that day. She is no longer with us, but I always think about her and the fun she brought to that day and her life in general. Last year, we bundled up Little Bird and strolled all around the city enjoying hot chocolate. And I know that this walk through the city will stand out in the future as the first actual date we went on in months.
The holiday spirit may be slightly dampened in downtown Pittsburgh this year, but it is still there and still going strong. We truly enjoyed seeing all of these familiar sights and gearing up for the holiday season.
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