Christmas in the Museum

Christmas was a very special time in the classic departments stores all across the United States and Canada.  From overwhelming decorations, winter wonderlands ensconced in auditoriums high above the street floor hustle and bustle, to Santa Parades and celebratory luncheons in the beautiful tea rooms . . . the Department Stores became a part of the secular holiday icon.

And in the past, they didn't just keep it secular: Wanamaker's "Christmas Cathedral" incorporated religious displays above the store's street floor counters, and most stores featured at least one art-museum quality nativity display window on the exterior. In this way, the stores paid homage to the real meaning of the season, while still cashing in on holiday commerce.  After all, department stores were in many cases family businesses, and relied upon their customer families for their patronage to ensure a successful holiday season.

The intent of this exhibit is to illustrate just a little of what made Christmas special in the great Department Stores.  Come along and relive a day when beautiful, hand-made displays were as de rigeur as was a tearoom turkey dinner with all of the trimmings . . .
But before Chirstmas decorations could be shown in department stores, there was the Thanksgiving holiday, when stores were traditionally closed so that families could consider their blessings together . . . a Hemphill-Wells ad illustrates it well

Hudson's did not forsake the true essence of the
Christmas holiday, and presented an elaborate
Nativity display in its Woodward Avenue windows.
This 1963 ad shows how Hudson's enticed its customers
downtown, beginning with the Detroit Aglow tree-lighting
and throughout the festive Christmas seeason.

Millions of Detroiters were awed by Hudson's
Tree of Lights, installed on the Woodward Avenue
facade of the behemoth store from the mid-1950s
onward. Inside, Toytown and Santa Land, with
working amusement rides, enticed families
to do their shopping at the Motor City's famous store. 

Hudson's also made the most of its truly enormous
downtown store to celebrate Christmas with panache.

Field's epitomized the Department Store Christmas.  From its falling electrical snowflakes above the State Street sidewalk, to the Great Tree in the Walnut Room, the store literally "decked itself" out and inspired one of its main Christmas promotional slogans: "Christmas isn't Christmas without a day at Field's."

It proudly proclaimed that it was the "Store of the Christmas Spirit."

Marshall Field & Company used this illustration
of its traditional Great Tree in print advertising in 1972

The space of the great light wells in the
State Street building were put to good
decorative advantage each year
(Photo from the National Museum of American History)

To help celebrate the Christmas Holiday,
Marshall Field & Company created Aunt Holly,
Uncle Mistletoe, and Freddie Fieldmouse.

Children and their parents could visit
"Cozy Cloud Cottage" on the eighth floor,
where all three took up residence .

Fields' artists illustrated their store's beautiful
Christmas Court decoration section.

Other stores had unique Christmas characters as well,
such as Mr. Bingle of Maison Blanche in New Orleans.
Masion Blanche may only be a memory,
but Mr. Bingle lives on at this web site.

Halle's, which called itself "The Treasure House of Gifts,"
created Mr. Jingeling, "Keeper of the Keys"
to Santa's workshop, "On Halle's seventh floor."
The delightful sentiments expressed
in the advertisement about the beloved
Cleveland character hark to an era when
 the Christmas holiday, as celebrated
in these stores, was full of charm and delight.

Today's Mr. Jingeling, alas, without Halle's,
 has a web site

Macy's, of course, was most noted for its
Thanksgiving Day Paradeintroduced each year,
as here in 1960, with a full-page newspaper ad.

In 1963, the store incorporated the upcoming 1964-65
New York World's Fair into its celebration.

In 1964, the parade helped the Fair usher in its 2nd season.

Pittsburgh's Joseph Horne Co. celebrated the
Christmas holiday in its own unique way -
due to its location on the Allegheny river
embankment in downtown Pittsburgh, Santa
Claus could parade down the river and make
a ceremonial entrance!  The store also outfitted
elevators as "rocket ships" (complete with costumed
elevator operators) that could take children to
Horne's 7th-floor Toyland.

Those with fond memories of Gertz
will surely recall its "Fairy Tale Village."

Even a smaller store like Buffums' expressed gratitude

and appreciation in its Christmas advertising.

Miller & Rhoads Christmas windows, created by
Addison Lewis, transcended store decoration into
the realm of fine art, as in this "Madonna Window."

In 1969, Forbes & Wallace featured its
interesting boutiques and shops for Christmas.

Neighboring G. Fox & Co. in Hartford, Connecticut
enticed customers to its downtown store with
a similar approach in 1964.

Among the most magnificent of Christmas celebrations
in any American department store was created by
John Wanamaker in 1956, and called the
"Christmas Light Show."

The store capitalized on its spacious Grand Court,
which was filled at show times with customers
looking upwards at the spectacle.
The Christmas Cathedral displays above
the sales counters are clearly visible in this view.

The Christmas Light Show incorporated music
from the Wanamaker Organ, lights,
dancing fountains, and a great Christmas tree.

John Wanamaker's Grand Court was
also graced by the
"Christmas Cathedral"

A treat for the young ones at Portland's Rhodes
department store was a ride down to
Santa Claus and Toyland on a giant slide.

Prange's presented the
"Magical Kingdom of Christmas"

Woodward & Lothrop proclaimed itself
"The Christmas Store"

The unique charm and beauty
of Bullock's at Christmas-time
is well conveyed in their ad
wishing customers "An old-fashioned
Merry Christmas."

This image, of a display window in Eaton's
in Toronto, is representative of the beautiful
Nativity windows produced by department stores
in the 1950s to 1970s.

The Department Store Museum sincerely wishes Peace and Goodwill,
as embodied in the Christmas holiday, to all visitors,
as well as a Happy New Year 2018, as always, summed up so beautifully
in this 1950 Wanamaker ad.


  1. Jingle, jangle, jingle
    Here comes Mr. Bingle
    With another message from Kris Kringle
    Time to launch your Christmas season
    Maison Blanche makes Christmas pleasin'
    Gifts galore for you to see
    Each a gem from MB!

    So many good memories from those who have family on the Gulf Coast

    Mr Bingle has his own website, too

    Even though dullard's (an intentional misspelling) still sells Mr Bingle goods, it's not the same.

  2. Mr. Bingle may have to work for Dullard's today but in Maison Blanche my heart will stay...

  3. I have a stuffed Mr. Bingle which was purchased at McAlpin's Department Store in Cincinnati back in the 1990's. McAlpin's was owned by Mercantile Stores as was Maison Blanche. Until I read this page I had no idea what his story was. Really cool! The McAlpin's locations in Cincinnati became Dillard's as well. McAlpin's was THE department store in Cincinnati and is still sorely missed.

  4. G Fox in Hartford had a wonderful Christmas display. After the store was closed...the city turned it into a Winter Wonderland for the season. This lasted about ten years and sadly has ended as Hartford continues its decline

  5. I visited NYC today.....went to Rockefeller Center to see the Christmas Tree and across to Saks Fifth Avenue. Beautiful window display and it is the best decorated store in America (always was always will be). It is like going back in time as soon as you enter the main floor. So glad to see the old traditions upheld during the Christmas season.
    In addition I went to Brooks Brothers where the sales associate wished me a Merry Christmas at the end of the sales transaction!
    At Grand Central Terminal they are holding their annual Christmas Fair in Vanderbilt Hall. So many lovely gift ideas, I only wish it was larger.
    Even in warm weather, NYC is a Christmas paridise.

  6. I was looking to get or find out if anyone has the stove that each child was given, when they ate at Higbees Christmas with Santa. I remeber then being cardboard

  7. Hi! Can anyone remember ever seeing live monkeys in Gimbels' Philadelphia Christmas windows. A friend and my sister swear they saw them in the mid-50's or 60's when they were about 9 or 10 years old. The only thing I've found were monkeys in the Gimbels Milwaukee windows in 1956. Thanks for any help!

  8. Yes they had live monkeys in the windows

  9. Who manufactured the fur coats sold at Lazarus store Columbus, OH?? I recently purchased a vintage swing coat made of Persian lambs wool
    w/blonde mink collar at a thrift store for $24 in mint condition. It has a beautiful lining w/a monogram as well....(would love to know prior owner info, year purchased etc) looks like it was never worn. Any info would be appreciated....thanks!!

  10. I have 2 photos of myself sitting on Santa's lap, circa 1954 and 1955 taken in the downtown Joseph Hornes. The store was always so handsomely decorated, with a multi story lighted tree on the corner of Penn Avenue and Stanwix Street. Alas, Hornes is long gone, but the current occupiers of the building (Highmark) still put up the tree.

  11. To those of us who grew up & lived in SF, you can't mention Christmas without mentioning The Emporium's roof rides (the rides not only existed at the Downtown SF location, but at Stonestown SF and at Stevens Creek in Santa Clara). I am not seeing many photos that exist online, but a link to an online article is at

    I have reached out to someone who might have some photos of this who was an Emporium executive. If I am successful I will send them your way. I am wondering if the SF Chronicle might have some photos in their archives of the roof rides? The store displayed a museum of 100 years of The Emporium memorabilia - this went in 1996 to the Oakland Museum of California - - maybe reach out to them?

    I'll see what I can find for you and get back to you. Thanks for the great work on this site.


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