Sunday, December 13, 2009

Holidays on Display

The main aisle of Marshall Field & Co., Chicago, circa 1955. (National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution)

Holidays on Display examines the art, industry, and history of holiday display across the United States. Focusing on parading culture and department store retail display, primarily between the 1920s and 1960s, when holiday displays were considered commercial endeavors equally rewarding for the American public, the exhibition showcases numerous photographs, postcards and rendering illustration of parade floats and window displays—including the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade and Marshall Field & Company Christmas windows—as well as objects relating to the early creation of these displays.

“Holidays on Display” will be on view at the National Museum of American History through November 2010

Link to Smithsonian Institution
Online Exhibition
Press Realease
Asked and Answered | Holidays on Display


  1. Mr. Bird's book is excellent, and the exhibition at the Smithsonian looks to be really cool. I think I may go to see it. Even if you don't go to DC to see it, there is a click-through on the blog post to the online exhibition, which is excellent as well.

    This is what's missing from the holidays, folks. It used to be ...that you could go to a local department store and see stunning holiday displays and participate in great old traditions, all for free or close to it. At some of the stores, bean counters decided the displays and events weren't cost effective, and killed them. We as consumers got obsessed with getting \"the best deal\" and put the rest of the stores that offered this kind of experience out of business.

    We can't remake the past, but we can enjoy what's left and try to do better in the future.

  2. I couldn't agree more, Steve. We've sacrificed the experience for the best deal, as you say, and I think we're much worse off.

    We bought the "Holidays on Display" book this past summer, and have put it out on our coffeetable for the holidays. What an awesome book! It's fitting that they've featured Field's so prominently. As a kid going to State Street every year from the mid 70's through the mid 80's, I remember it as a magical experience. Maybe not quite as interesting as the 1950's photo you show, but not that far from it!

  3. Dave: I wish I could have seen a Marshall Field's Christmas display. I've heard they were impressive. They were starting to put up the decorations the time I went in '96, but they weren't anywhere close to ready.

    Pat: You should get the book. There are any number of incredible pictures in there.