Yes, Philly, there is a Gritty Claus. He exists as certainly as laughter and chaos and utter devotion to the city of Philadelphia exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy.
Alas! How dreary would be the world if there were no Gritty Claus. It would be as dreary if there were no Philadelphia. There would be no childlike wonder then, no mascot mayhem, no embodiment of this year’s total unpredictability to make tolerable this existence in 2020.
For those seeking out holiday magic in a year where magic can sometimes seem in short supply, the new “Winter on Broad Street: A Holiday Light Spectacular” featuring Gritty as Santa Claus aims to shoot some socially-distanced childlike wonder back into the season like a Red Ryder BB gun.
Opening on Black Friday in the Wells Fargo Center parking lot and running through Jan. 3, Winter on Broad Street features 193 light sculptures (from giant rubber duckies to a 25-foot reindeer); games and activities (like curling on a Flyers-branded ice sheet); food and gift marketplaces; and photo opportunities with Gritty Claus (who, let’s be honest, doesn’t care if you’re naughty or nice).
Laid out over more than 160,000 square feet, the event requires timed ticket entries and guests will be required to wear face masks and follow a one-way linear layout through the grounds to maintain social distancing.
“There’s not going to be anyone in your shot,” said Mike Shane, chief business officer for the Wells Fargo Center. “You’re going to be able to take pictures and feel like you kind of have the whole place to yourself.”
From a dazzling tunnel of white lights to giant light sculptures of ice stalagmites, the walk-thru displays are an Instagrammer’s holiday fever dream.
One of the most popular features of the event so far, based on advance ticket sales, is an opportunity to take a photo with Gritty Claus for $15.
Based on an extremely informal poll on Twitter asking if people would be willing to pay that much money for a photo with Gritty, only about 5 people out of 100 or so respondents said no (another five said any other year but this year).
In fact, many people believed Gritty was vastly undercharging for a moment in his presence - with photographic evidence to boot.
“Why is this such a bargain?” one respondent said.
“My answer is yes because $15 is less than the $100 I would be willing to pay,” said another.
But even the photo opportunities with Gritty Claus - who wears a snazzy holiday face shield - will be socially distanced, according to Shane.
“We are always looking out for the health of Gritty and all of our guests,” Shane said. “The advantage is Gritty is very big so even if we put him farther back in the shot he will then just kind of look normal-sized.”
Tickets for the photo opp with Gritty may be purchased in advance, though some tickets will remain for sale on site as well.
Food and beverage options at the event include Don’t Shoot Your Eye Out cheddar beef soup, Buddy’s churros, and gingerbread white Russians. In accordance with city COVID-19 guidelines, guests must purchase food if they want to buy alcoholic drinks and both must be consumed in designated dining areas at tables of no more than four people, all of whom must live in the same household.
Winter on Broad Street’s Mistletoe Marketplace will feature local vendors, as well as products exclusive to the event from the Wells Fargo Center, like an “Ol Saint Grit” sweatshirt and a “Seasons Grittings” t-shirt.
Performances from various local groups will also take place each day at the event’s Tinsel Town Square.
“One night we might have a dance group, the next night we might have a children’s choir, so there’s going to be something different every night,” Shane said.
Winter on Broad Street is employing 200 seasonal workers, Shane said, many of whom typically work at the Wells Fargo, which has been closed to the public since COVID-19 shut downs began.
“This is the first winter time event we’ve done because typically we’re using the parking lot for Flyers and Sixers games,” Shane said. “So this was a unique opportunity to look for a silver lining.”
On Tuesday, at a media preview of the event, Gritty used what was described as “the world’s largest Clapper” to conduct a ceremonial lighting of the displays at Winter on Broad Street.
And as he clapped his orange, furry paws together they made, as they always do, small, joyous squeaks, just like Cindy-Lou Who, just like the coo of a dove.
Tickets to attend Winter on Broad are $32.50 for adults and $27.50 for children 13 and under. On “Special Santa’s Savings Days” — Dec. 1 through Dec. 3 and Dec. 7 to Dec. 10 — tickets start at $20 for adults and $15 for kids.
A separate $15 ticket is required for photos with Gritty Claus. All tickets may be purchased at winteronbroad.com.