One of the great things about working in downtown Washington, D.C., at this time of year is the Macy’s Christmas window display. For those of you who aren’t in the U.S., Macy’s is one of our largest upscale department stores. Their original New York location (worth a visit should you be in the City) is the setting for Miracle on 34th Street, they host the famous Thanksgiving Day parade, and outposts can be found in every major city and many suburban malls across the country.
R.H. Macy is supposedly the mastermind behind the animated department store holiday window display, having created one in 1883, in which Santa’s sleigh was mechanized and moved around a track set up across his New York City’s store’s front windows. After that, department stores in major cities would compete informally to see who could create the most talked about windows of the season. While that tradition has faded from most places with the disappearance of the standalone department store, Macy’s (and their New York City competitors) keeps it going.
Here in D.C., Macy’s unveils their windows the Saturday before Thanksgiving. Since I like to be surprised when I return after the holiday, I alter my path from the metro station to my office to avoid spoilers.
The first and the last windows are Macy’s-themed staples, highlighting their underwriting of both the Thanksgiving Day parade and the 2010 animated Christmas special, Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus. The ones in between, however, change every year or so.
This year, the second and the fifth windows are the ones to pause in front of. In the second window, swirls of snow magically manifest themselves into a variety of wintry creatures. In the fifth, Santa and an elf are making their lists and matching kids up with their perfect gift. The North Pole has moved to a database system, which tracks incidents of good and bad behavior, children’s likes and dislikes, and scanned copies of their letters to Santa. (I’ve included a slideshow at the bottom of this post so you can see some of the details of these two windows.) They’re really cool window displays.
The audience for these windows is varied. Gaggles of very small kids from the downtown day care centers parade past on their daytime excursions, pausing in their trolley push chairs and duckling lines to exclaim over details. Office workers out to grab a bite to eat tend to give the windows a sideward glance while remaining in motion, rather than stopping to take in the windows as a whole. In the evening, it tends to be older folks, probably mostly tourists staying at the downtown hotels, who stroll past leisurely, conversing about past Christmases while the Muzak that’s set to be heard over the daytime bustle swells around them theatrically.
Stop back tomorrow for the next stop on the Virtual Advent Tour. And if you’re interested in taking part in the tour, details and sign-up info can be found here. We’d love to have you participate.