John Wanamaker Department Store (now Macy’s) at Christmas 2014
Friday, December 24, 2016
Christmastime! After so many Christmases, I am amazed at how eager I am still, preparing for the “most wonderful time of the year”, the songs and carols, sparking lights and colors, the fragrance of Christmas!
I remember when I was a child, my mother and aunt would take me to center city Philadelphia for a visit with Santa Claus. Dressed in my maroon coat and leggings, Mother, Aunt Ginny and I would trot along from Suburban Train Station through City Hall courtyard to Wanamaker’s department store at Market and 15th Streets . A massive and glorious great Spruce tree adorned the City taking its place on the brass star inlay that marked the very center of Philadelphia. And always, at the very end of the courtyard promenade we came upon the chestnut vendor at his post just inside the shelter of the pass-through. The air was thick with roasting chestnuts which I tried my best to find appealing because of how Nat King Cole sung so fondly of them in his famous Christmas song, failing every time though to hold my breath long enough to pass the area of the ubiquitous pungent aroma. But every year, the vendor was in the same place and at some point in my childhood, I came to enjoy the roasting chestnuts because it was among the many things that happened only at Christmastime.
Back then it seemed that all Christmases were guaranteed to be cold ones. My woolen coat and leggings were an unwelcome but necessary burden against the cold which once inside the department store, became far too warm and cumbersome. There were two ways a girl could wear her leggings; either under her dress or over with the dress tucked inside. This way assured easier access when necessary, but missing the more ladylike and full display of the Christmas dress. So, with properly planned bathroom visits and Aunt Ginny‘s assistance, I wore my leggings underneath my dress, just as Mother preferred. And with hat, gloves, and my purse and Christmas list tucked inside slung across my chest, the three of us sallied on toward Santa Claus.
Either before or after visiting Santa, we’d join the crowd for the amazing John Wanamaker Christmas Light Show. Back then, there was an additional part to the show. A water display “danced along” with organ music accompaniment played live with every show. Changing lights colored the sparkling water as it swayed back and forth in front of the Christmas tree of lights. John Facenda, Philadelphia’s premiere news anchor, gifted his distinctive baritone to the narration of the story of Clara in the Land of Sweets, Toyland, and Frosty the Snowman. The light show was a wonderful gift for children and adults alike and remains today as one of the treasured events of Christmas in Philadelphia.
As the years passed and I grew to see beyond my own wishes and expectations, I realized that something else was happening at Christmastime; that there was a feeling the season brings which captures the heart and mind, having the most profound effect upon people. They were happier, willing to forget their differences, going out of their way and often out of character to smile and express compassion toward one another.
I may have been 7 years old or some where about the first time that I presented gifts to my family. They consisted of a crayon drawing or something I was able to craft from the odds and ends of Mother’s sewing box, button bracelets and such. I remember clearly a feeling that seemed to take hold as I became totally immersed in making a present for each family member. It is a memory as crystalline as Christmas itself and a wonderful reminder of how lucky I am for the people who I have to love and with whom to share in the great joy of giving.
May we remember the Gift of Jesus Christ, His Unconditional Love for every one of us, His amazing sacrifice this Christmas and everyday.
Merry Christmas everyone!
Our lives are a compilation of events that we dismiss for the most part. I didn’t know that somewhere deep in my heart was this time that I spent with my grandparents. One day it was there, this sterling moment in my life effortlessly revealing itself to me onto the pages of my little book of 50 pages.
This extraordinary experience of my childhood took place in pre-civil-rights era Virginia. As I wrote the words I felt warm and comforting support for a time so dear to me. Until the time of writing, I was unaware of how much meaning it brought to my life. It was written with love and a deep and ever-growing appreciation for my family. It might well have been entitled , “The Gift”.