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Then and Now: Macy’s Holiday Traditions

The holidays are rapidly approaching, and Macy’s is preparing for its 107th annual Great Tree lighting at its flagship location on State Street this Saturday, November 8th. In this “Then and Now” entry, we look back at the rich history of Macy’s holiday traditions on State Street.

Then: Marshall Field’s

Macy’s predecessor at 111 N. State Street, Marshall Field’s, is still well-remembered among Chicagoans. Many great holiday traditions that now define the Chicago holiday experience began there, including the Walnut Room's Great Tree, SantaLand®, and the holiday window displays.

In 1907, Marshall Field’s opened the first department store tea room—today, Macy’s Walnut Roomserving, among other dishes, Mrs. Hering’s famous chicken pot pie. It's difficult to pin down exactly what happened, but as told in the book Give the Lady What She Wants: The Story of Marshall Field & Company, these pot pies somehow sparked the idea for a full tea room within the store, to serve as somewhere socially acceptable for ladies to have lunch without a gentleman escort.

(Photo: Marshall Field's Tea Room, 1907 | Wikimedia Commons)

The first tree at 111 N. State Street was lit in the Marshall Field’s tea room in 1907, though that tree was surely not as large as Macy’s Great Tree today. Viewing the tree lighting ceremony and having breakfast, lunch, or dinner by the tree has become a true Chicago holiday tradition, in addition to Mrs. Hering’s pot piea recipe that Macy’s continues to hold true to today.

(Photo: Great Tree, 1964 | Macy's)

SantaLand, then known as Santa’s Cozy Cloud Cottage at Marshall Field’s, began in 1948 as a place for children to explore and get a visit from Santa Claus himself, drawing thousands of kids and families to the store each year.

(Photo: Original Cozy Cloud Cottage, 1948 | Macy's)

The final big tradition, the animated holiday window displays, began in the 1960s, though the idea of unique, engaging holiday windows came from Marshall Field himself in the 1890s. Back then, of course, the windows weren’t animated, but nonetheless Field’s break from the traditional strictly product-based windows was innovative, and they caught the eyes of Chicago shoppers every year.

Now: Macy’s on State Street

Today, Macy’s is continuing the traditions began at Marshall Field’s, adding their own flair along the way. The animated holiday windows will unveil with the store opening at 9 a.m. this Saturday, November 8, followed by the opening of SantaLand at 10 a.m., the Great Tree Lighting at noon, and a special Frozen Family Fun Day beginning at 1 p.m., featuring activities for kids based on Disney's Frozen.

This year’s tree lighting ceremony will be hosted by TV/radio host and producer Ryan Seacrest, and Lee DeWyze, winner of the 9th season of American Idol, will be performing three songs. The tree itself will be 45 feet tall, suspended from the ceiling as usual, and it will be decorated with approximately 3,000 silver ornaments and 6,000 sparkling LED lights. In addition, the tree will cycle through its 1-hour light show in 15-minute segments with a special “magical moment” each hour on the hour.  

(Video: Construction of 2011 Great Tree | Macy's)

SantaLand at Macy’s, as always, will feature the adorable elves and the big man himself, delighting children and their families every year as a favorite holiday tradition. The theme of Macy’s holiday window display this year is called “The Journey of a Christmas Wish,” depicting a young heroine’s imagination as she mails her wish list to Santa at Macy’s on State Street. It is a holiday journey for families to enjoy, a mix of old school traditional art and gorgeous visual elements.

Finally, a new addition by Macy’s this year will be the Macy’s Holiday Arcade on the 7th floor, featuring a large selection of specialty toys and stocking stuffers, including a Build-A-Bear Workshop. Macy’s will also be bringing back Macy’s Holiday Lane on the 5th floora one-stop shop for holiday decorations and trimmings.

A trip to Macy’s this year will give you and your family a wonderful mix of the new and the old when it comes to holidays, and it will surely become one of your favorite holiday traditionsthat is, if it isn’t already.

(Header Photo: Marshall Field's holiday windows in the 1940s | Macy's)

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