Nostalgic 3-day festival offers holiday fun in Vandergrift

Dec. 1—When people call Denise Lewandowski "Crazy Christmas Lady," she considers it a compliment.

Lewandowski, of Vandergrift, proudly embraces her holiday moniker.

She wore a sweatshirt with that phrase on it while preparing Wednesday for a big holiday event this weekend in Vandergrift.

She talked about her passion for all things Christmas while assembling more than 150 donated raffle baskets for the Vandergrift Back When Holiday Extravaganza festival. The event will run Friday through Sunday in the borough's downtown historic district.

All of the businesses will be open, even the ones normally closed on Sundays, Lewandowski said.

Organizers expect the three-day event to attract 20,000 people.

The festival is sponsored by the Vandergrift Lions.

Lewandowski started it three years ago in response to the borough's annual Christmas parade being canceled during the covid-19 pandemic.

About 20 volunteers assist Lewandowski year-round preparing for the festival.

"I totally love how the whole community pulls together, and each year it's bigger and bigger."

For the event, Lewandowski dresses in costume as Suzy Snowflake.

"The first year, I cried like a crazy person, and last year, I was so happy," Lewandowski said.

Lots of activities, food

Activities include auctions, prizes, raffles, a scavenger hunt, a 5K holiday dash, caroling, a gingerbread decorating contest, a most festive sweater contest, a holiday lighting contest, a cookie contest and the Amazing Race.

Among the free activities are a petting zoo, caricatures and a zone for kids.

There also will be horse-drawn carriage rides, live entertainment and more than 150 vendors. A food truck court will feature a variety of options.

A free Breakfast with Santa will start at 10 a.m. Sunday at the Vandergrift Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 566.

For a complete list of activities, information and times, visit

Big parade Friday

This year's parade will feature more than 75 organizations and clubs and more than 20 floats. Parade attendance last year hovered around 7,000 spectators. This year, it's expected to draw close to 10,000 people, including participants.

The parade will start Friday at 6 p.m. from Longfellow Street and travel left onto Hancock, right onto Franklin and left onto Grant.


Funds raised during the event are donated to the Vandergrift Police Department, Vandergrift Volunteer Fire Company No. 2, Vandergrift Lions, Vandergrift Borough and various local businesses.

Mayor Lenny Collini described the event as a "Hallmark Christmas."

"This is what Vandergrift needs," Collini said. "This is year three for the Extravaganza, and the whole town gets involved. A big thank-you goes out to Denise and everyone involved in her committee for all they do."

This year, Vandergrift Council members will participate in the parade on a float.

"There's fun for all ages, and you truly do go back in time," Collini said. "There's lots to see and do the whole weekend."

Dot Knittel of Oklahoma Borough volunteers in all areas of the event. She even rearranges her work schedule as a hair stylist to help Lewandowski.

"It's awesome to see things come together and see thousands of people out there," Knittel said. "It's like watching a Christmas movie on TV. It's nice to see this little town that seemed like it was dying come back to life."

Brenda Milliman also volunteers and shares a love for Christmas.

"I love how it brings the town together," she said.

Joyce Hanz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joyce by email at or via Twitter .