Celebrating South Philly’s Seasonal Window & Step Decorations
By Sequoia Medley
It’s expected for the winter holidays – to bring a bit of light and festivity to the gloom of shortened days. And Halloween is enthusiastically promoted with creepy or autumnal decorations. But South Philadelphians take seasonal decor far beyond these major celebrations. On any given block, at any time of the year, you can find multiple homes in various states of adornment. These decorations both bemuse and delight passersby.
What inspires these festive displays? Perhaps it’s the architecture of the row home, many featuring prominent street facing windows with ledges, and stoops and steps dipping towards the sidewalks. Perhaps it’s the history of constantly shifting immigrant populations, proud to celebrate with displays of newly acquired and changing decor. Maybe it’s just tradition and keeping up with the Joneses. Regardless, South Philadelphians love to decorate the outside of their homes with the changing seasons and personal celebration.
In the long stretch between the start of the New Year and Halloween, some South Philadelphia homes may change their ornamentation a dozen times. Some revamp their steps and windows for everything from Fathers Day to the nebulous Back-to-School season.
Interesting contrasts pop up, such as the homes who decorate for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and St. Patrick’s day at the same time. Many windows lay fallow between big holidays by retreating to flags celebrating the Pope’s visit four years ago or generic seasonal catchalls.
Beloved by some is one home on 12th Street, whose owners lovingly decorate the protruding air conditioning window unit with not only every conceivable holiday, but in honor of sporting events as well. There’s also the house on South 10th Street below Morris which festoons the window, steps, and even a nearby tree.
Beloved by some is one home on 12th Street, whose owners lovingly decorate the protruding air conditioning window unit with not only every conceivable holiday, but in honor of sporting events as well. There’s also the house on South 10th Street below Morris which festoons the window, steps, and even a nearby tree.Stoop decorations celebrate more than the calendar holidays: they signal to neighbors who’s graduating, who’s engaged, and when a baby is born/ The windows serves as essential shorthand for major life changes for the families within. They also provide go-to subjects for small talk in our dense blocks. With people busily rushing to and from homes, a casual glance lets one know what’s happening for a given family, as well as the ebb and flow of the lives within.
Anticipating the birth of my second child, I crafted a welcome sign to hang in the door. The name and gender needed to be filled in once the baby was born. Soon after my daughter arrived, our neighbors chided my husband for not hanging this proclamation promptly. They needed to know what was happening behind our closed doors before meeting her themselves!
Especially of note in our neighborhood are the announcements of an impending serenade. At this traditional block party a groom-to-be publicly woos his fiance through song. One tell-tale sign of a serenade: watch for white tulle wrapped around banisters and hanging in swags from windows. Paper hangings in the window will usually indicate if the home belongs to the bride or groom’s side. This is not to be confused with white tulle celebrating a baptism or first communion – the windows and doors will always clarify which milestone is being advertised.
Philadelphians love their outdoor decor and take such serious pride in their displays that it’s an issue which perennially reaches local news through stories of stolen decorations, wreaths and lights, figures and flags. If the frequent posts on nextdoor.com are believed, it’s a rampant issue. It’s just one of the subtle and simultaneous omnipresent, ordinary things that makes this section of the city so special.