I was curious one evening not all that long ago about what kind of holiday traditions we used to enjoy here in Memphis. Here are some tidbits I gathered. Please comment with your own stories and memories!
Sandra Reeves is one of many with fond memories of Christmastime in Memphis: Memphis, the city, was an enchanted place to be as a child during Christmas back in the late ’50s and the ’60s. I remember there was a Santa set up on Main Street in a little park just North of the Walgreen’s. There was someone collecting the children’s names from parents (unknown to children) and when you finally got to Santa, as there was quite a line, he knew your name!
The Enchanted Forest first bestowed magical moments to Memphis children at the Gayoso Hotel before moving to Goldsmiths, where it began its most well-known run. Two German immigrant brothers opened what would morph into this beloved department store in the mid-1800s. The store was pretty fancy with its escalators, air conditioning, and merchandise arranged by departments. They even had a Christmas parade before Macy’s.
The Enchanted Forest was located in the bargain basement. Apparently there was a long tunnel from the parking garage to the store that had many strange and wonderful wares along the walls. At the end of the tunnel, one would find a bakery with seasonal gingerbread men. Busloads of children would arrive, giddy to be on a field trip and at the prospect of spotting Santa with his live reindeer. An electric train (or perhaps several) ran throughout the Enchanted Forest.
Tayla of Grace Grits and Gardening recalls her childhood visits to the Enchanted Forest: A winter wonderland spread before us filled with forest animals and snowmen and twinkle lights and glittery snow delivered straight from the North Pole to the area behind men’s clothing. We strolled through slowly, savoring each second and every step, not wanting it to end. But kinda we did because deep in the frosty forest, a visit and picture with Santa awaited.
When Goldsmiths closed the Enchanted Forest moved to Shelby Farms. These days you can experience a little bit of that old magic at the Pink Palace.
Christmas at Overton Square was a sight to behold. In 1976 those wild dudes who created the Square (read all about it in, what else, our book) decided there should be snow. Yep, this “Charles Dickens” Christmas had blue skies and a blizzard that began as soon as the temperature hit 28 degrees. Carolers dressed like those in the 1800s sang underneath lampposts wrapped in garland and tied up with ribbon. Ice skaters crammed onto the rink that took over the entire street between Florence and Cooper. The official city tannenbaum was located on in front of (where else??) T.G.I. Fridays. The parade went right down Madison. The original version of Overton Square was a little bit over the top anyway, so why would Christmastime be any different?
1956 was just one of the many years when Santa Claus appeared at Court Square. The year before this Swiss Alpine cottage appeared, approximately 15,000 children visited with the jolly, bearded fellow (a record that was expected to be broken in ’56). This magical Santa had a super secret way to discover the names, information, and what sort of gifts he could promise the children will receive that year. No matter what each child wished for, they all left with a tiny Coke bottle keychain!
Speaking of Santa, Robert J. Morton delighted children at his fully decked out home for two full weeks during the Christmas season. Pictured here in 1969, you can see his house is strung with hundreds of lights. What you can’t see is the sound of Jingle Bells wafting over the yard. Just the year before, his wife dared him to dress up as Santa and wave to passersby. Before long, children were lined up to tell him their Christmas wishes. In his second year as Santa, Morton visited with about 300 children here on Parnassas.
Memphis seems to have had several favorite Santa Clauses throughout the year. Karl Pollard, pictured here in 1947, helps a four-year-old named Florence open her new doll. He faithfully played jolly old Saint Nick for twenty years!
Santa and Christmas decorations really do go hand in hand. These ladies were the 1953 winners of the city Christmas lighting contest.
However, my favorite image of vintage Memphis Christmas decorations is the one below, from the P. A. McPhillips House in 1937.
Businesses have been adding a touches of holiday spirit to their storefronts for decades now in Memphis.
And finally, a favorite memory of most lifelong Memphians – the Christmas parade. This image comes to us from 1950! Got your own special Christmas memory? Share it in the comments below!