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You never forget your first Macy's Christmas Light Show

A Philly holiday staple since 1956, the Macy's Christmas Light Show still attracts first-timers, locals and tourists alike.

Karen Builione, top left, watches the holiday light show with her daughters Isabella, 7, in blue, and Francesca, 4, in pink, in Macy's.
Karen Builione, top left, watches the holiday light show with her daughters Isabella, 7, in blue, and Francesca, 4, in pink, in Macy's.Read moreTIM TAI / Staff Photographer

On Friday morning, Lindsey Wells made the trek from Cherry Hill to Center City to show her 16-month-old daughter, Avery, Macy's Christmas Light Show for the first time. She parked Avery's stroller in the middle of the grand atrium by 11:30 a.m. for the show at noon, staking out the best possible vantage point with her husband, Shaun.

"Avery loves music and shiny things, so this should be really fun for her," Wells said.

It wasn't Wells' first time seeing the holiday lights at Macy's. Taking the train into the city to see the light show has been a family tradition since she was 5, but she stopped when she became preteen. She acknowledged, though, that the trip to Macy's wasn't just for Avery — she had wanted to see it, too.

"Because our daughter is still so young, we're trying a lot of new things," Wells said. "We'd like to create some of our own family traditions, but there are some we'd like to carry over, as well."

Read more: All the Philly holiday events kicking off this weekend

The Macy's Christmas Light Show has been dazzling kids and adults alike since 1956. Formerly called the John Wanamaker Christmas Light Show, it  now uses energy-efficient bulbs and a computer system to operate the lights. Other than that, little has changed, making it a holiday tradition that has stood the test of time.

Sisters Kristin Mansfield and Karen Builione also started going to the light show with their parents when they were 5.

"They used to tell us that real Santa lived in this Macy's," Mansfield, who lives in Center City, said with a laugh. "We would also go to Bookbinder's afterwards for lunch, but we've cut that one out of the tradition."

This year, Builione brought her four daughters, ages 4 through 12, to the show for the first time.

"I didn't tell them much about it," she said. "I want them to be surprised."

For many Philadelphians, the show, with more than 100,000 lights accompanied by the Wanamaker Grand Organ, is a holiday staple and family tradition. But the show, which started its run through New Year's Eve on Friday, drew many curious visitors from out of town, as well.

Thirteen-year-old Mark Mathis traveled to Philadelphia from Indianapolis with his family to celebrate Thanksgiving, partly because of all the light shows the city has to offer during the holiday season. Mark, an aspiring light-show designer, has been putting together his own shows since he was 6.

"When I was really young, I became obsessed with light switches," he said. "I've been doing my family's holiday lights display for a while now, both indoors and outdoors."

So far, Mark has seen the Franklin Square light show and the Comcast Holiday Spectacular.

The noon show started a little later than expected because of technical difficulties, which led to some grumbling among the crowd. But Mark patiently waited on the floor of the atrium, lying down to get the best possible view. When the show finally began, his face lit up in astonishment.

"So far, I've been really impressed with Philly's light shows," he said. "There's so many of them, and they're all really elaborate."