Friday, November 24, 2017

Does Macy's tell Gimbel's?

[Editor's note. This post is adapted and expanded from an article that first appeared in Senior Life In Georgia, to whom I am indebted. The title above is my own invention. --RWP]

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away the city of Atlanta, Thanksgiving night was a special time. The Annual Lighting of Rich's Great Tree marked the beginning of the Christmas season. Back then, most stores waited until Thanksgiving was over to start advertising for Christmas. Every Thanksgiving, after nothing was left of the turkey but the carcass, and the guests around the dining room table were but a memory, over 100,000 people often made their way to downtown Atlanta to gather in the street below the 4-story glass bridge that connected Rich's Department Store's Store for Homes and Rich's Department Store's Store for Fashion. The streets were closed off, the buses and trolleys were rerouted, the lights were all turned out in and around the area (including street lights), and one level of the bridge at a time would come to life with wonderful choirs singing Christmas carols. After all levels were lit, a powerful soloist would sing "O Holy Night!" and at the climax of the song (...O night di-VINE!!!) the Great Tree on top of the bridge would spring to life in all of its glory as huge bells began to ring in the Christmas season in Atlanta! Then, all those who watched this beautiful event joined hands and sang "Silent Night" together, There was no time in Atlanta, before or since those years, when Christmas was more glorious for adults and children.

Alas, Rich's and its chief local competitor, Davison's, are no more. They were absorbed into the big northern conglomerate known as Macy's. Eventually the downtown building that had become Macy's closed its doors and the company dispersed itself to several suburban malls. The Lighting of the Great Tree still continues after 70 years, but a couple of decades ago it was moved to the roof of Lenox Square Mall in Buckhead, the most affluent section of the city. (It doesn't get more affluent than Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue.) Somehow the effect is not the same. This year's event took place last Sunday, November 19th, four days before Thanksgiving. Nobody waits for Thanksgiving to be over any more -- why wait when there is merchandise to be sold, when there are customers to be separated from their hard-earned money, and when there are profits to be made? Some eager establishments start before Halloween.

So many local traditions —- Officer Don on television, the Pink Pig train ride at Rich's, Lewis Grizzard's and Celestine Sibley's newspaper columns, Ludlow Porch's hilarious radio programs —- all of them gone with the wind.

Eventually I will be too.


  1. I'll bet that was a glorious sight. I wish I could have seen it. It makes Christmas the magical time it should be.

  2. It sounds like a beautiful tradition. And those who experienced it for themselves must mourn.

  3. Oh for a moment to go back in time, relive the good old days and ways and see those beloveds again. It can be a melancholy time of year, the holiday season. We've much to look forward to, however, and I believe it will be worth it all, when we see Christ!