First of all, you need to understand that to a Philadelphian, the old John Wanamaker’s department store (now Macy’s) was a magical place. It was so big, it even had its own post office and travel agency, and just about anyone who’s grown up here has, at one time or another, told their friends to “meet me at the eagle” — the brass sculpture in the Grand Court.

And Wanamaker’s at Christmas? Even better. If you were lucky, Mom took you there to see Santa — and to ride the ceiling monorail that circled the massive toy department. If you were even luckier, she took you to lunch after in the Crystal Tea Room, where we dined with silver flatware and cloth napkins, under huge crystal chandeliers.

Then it was down to the Grand Court, where we’d get to watch the Christmas light show that featured the largest pipe organ in the world and a gigantic tree with changing colored lights and dancing fountains. It was advertised as “The Tree Of A Million Lights” and maybe it was.

All I know is, it was dazzling. We’d throw our coats down on the marble floors and lie down so we could look up, transfixed. My parents took me to see it, I took my kids, and my siblings take their grandchildren. It’s one of the few remaining grand traditions in an age where there aren’t many left.

So when the Philadelphia Opera Company staged that recent “Hallelujah” flash mob, they couldn’t have picked a better spot than the old Wanamaker’s Grand Court.

Every city had its Christmas tradition. What were yours?

5 thoughts on “Hallelujah

  1. Ah, when the old downtown stores of Filene’s or Jordan Marsh use to have their animated Enchanted Village in the store windows(now thoughtfully rescued by one of the Jordan Furniture brothers and now on display at their Avon store.) for young and old alike, and it went up through the meeting place for Santa. The old Shoppers’ World with its live reindeer, and giant toy soldiers. Memories.

  2. For Philadelphians who want to point things out to their kids, the monorail that used to be on the 8th floor of Wanamaker’s is now at the Please Touch Museum in Fairmount Park. It doesn’t move, anymore, but kids can sit in it. Mine thought it was cool.

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