It’s Christmas Time in the City Filled With Memories

Three photo greeting cards of children seated on Santa's lap from Dayton's in the 1960's.

It’s very likely that my mother came away with a greeting card photo of my visit to Santa that looked like one of these issued by Dayton’s in the mid 60’s.

Spending the holidays in the city is distinctly different than the ones I knew as a child, growing up in rural Wisconsin. Strangely, it is no less nostalgic for me, the memories are simply of a different flavor.

Growing up in community of less than 2,000 people, a trip to “The Cities,” which was what we called downtown St. Paul and/or Minneapolis, was a rare and exotic treat.  There was always a purpose behind a trip of this nature, such as a scheduled visit to the Orthodontist for one of my older sisters.

However, one year, when I must have been 3 or maybe 4 years old, I recall my mother taking me to downtown Minneapolis to “see Santa.”.  Prior to that, our visits to Santa were annual, but limited to him appearing on the back of a fire engine, or in the town fire hall on a Saturday afternoon, in our little town of Prescott.  Thus, it was surprising and strange to me that he could or would appear amid the excitement of a visit to “The Cities.”

In those days, Dayton’s was in the early stages of launching their annual holiday show in the 8th floor auditorium of their downtown Minneapolis store, The department store itself held a volume of goods and people that any small girl, residing on a farm set back from the trunk highway by a one mile long driveway, would naturally find overwhelming.  I recall being surprised that there could be so many people in the world that I did not recognize and whose names I did not know.

The theme of that year’s show was “Peter Pan” and, entering the auditorium, the entire display seemed

A holiday gift box from Dayton's Department Store in the 1960's.

A holiday gift box from Dayton’s Department Store in the 1960’s.

larger than life to me.  We soon learned that Santa, who seemed entirely out of place in the warm, tropical feel of “Never Never Land,” was located on Captain Hook’s ship. The ship is really the only thing I remember about the display with any detail, and I recall wondering how they managed to get it inside of the store. Sincerely hoping that the rogue pirate did not have him fastened to the mast or walking the plank, we found Mr. Cringle safely stationed in what I remember to be a cabin inside the large ship.  I then remember being frightened out of my mind by stumbling upon the crocodile on the ship’s deck, after meeting with Santa, complete with a ticking bomb inside.  Sadly, we were not able to locate  archived photos of Dayton’s Peter Pan holiday display, so I am only able to share my written memories with you.

Taking in the 2014 “Santa’s Workshop” in Macy’s this year with John and my mother-in-law, Ellen, the scale and intensity of the display, though not of the same impact, does evoke memories of the first time I entered the store and auditorium in the mid 1960’s.


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