Arts and Entertainment

Window Display Wonderland

An exploration of New York Cities Christmas windows.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

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By Jessica Mui

If Michelle Obama spreads her magic on New York City's holiday windows, then every human must view the windows. The former first lady kicked off New York City's renowned holiday season in November at the annual Saks Fifth Avenue light show. This year’s Christmas windows are dedicated to the Obama Foundation’s Girl Alliance Opportunity after Saks donated one million dollars. This foundation strives to empower girls worldwide by providing more access to education. At the light show, Obama spoke about their recent efforts in helping disabled girls in Kenya learn to code.

In light of the bleak COVID-19 realities reflected throughout midtown, holiday window appreciation is imperative this year. Sadly, in the past few years, three major New York City department stores known for their windows have closed: Barneys, Lord & Taylors, and Henri Bendels. Not only do large window displays help attract potential buyers, they are also a core aspect of New York City's Christmas season.

In 1874, Macy’s was the first to pioneer the window display tradition for department stores. During their first year, their windows pictured scenes from Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” representative of the time porcelain dolls. Even then, the windows were used as an outlet for advocacy, similar to Obama’s project with the Saks windows today. However, the tradition of presenting a story on the Macy’s windows has remained. This year, the story chosen was “Tiptoe,” which encompasses the “true holiday spirit.” The story encircles a reindeer who realizes its true dream is to join Santa's sleigh and help bring everyone joy on Christmas Eve. Currently, these windows are decked with festive lights and modern illustrations, embracing the holiday spirit and tradition.

Sak’s windows were especially striking this year. The theme was youthful and unique, as their windows created scenes inspired by children’s art about what they are dreaming of this Christmas. In the corner of the windows was a copy of the original artworks, transformed into immense creations with moving parts and lights. The windows reflect the digital age we live in, with one of the windows portraying a “gaming Christmas.” These funky window displays are brightened by modern lighting of many colors that visualize a child's inventive imagination. Bloomingdales had a similar idea, as they filled their windows with an aesthetic assortment of children’s items, such as skateboards and dinosaurs.

With the more sophisticated holiday windows, it is imperative to have a range of windows to relate to many audiences and their differing interpretations of holiday spirit. These windows still included an adolescent influence as they incorporated games, from cards to bowling and circus acts in the background. The mannequins were especially ornate at Saks as they were beautified with heavy eye makeup and adorned with extravagant wigs, reminiscent of a fancy holiday party.

The Bergdorf windows are a continuation of the exaggerated, intricate design of the windows on Fifth Avenue. Each window captures a different theme, whether they brim with multicolored birds or colorful dogs and cats along fire escapes, with the latter drawing inspiration from old New York City. Bergdorf takes the holiday theme to an extravagant extreme, with a red and white themed window decorated with candy canes and peppermints, and the wayward clashing color that gives an otherwise completely red and white window a surprising element. Many of the mannequins at both Bergdorfs and Saks featured a variety of mismatched looks from different time periods, from 1920s fashion with masks covering their eyes to the flapper look. Perhaps we are getting a hint of what next year's fashion may entail, a little Christmas gift for all those fashion enthusiasts.

Another notable highlight of the NYC holiday season experience this year is 10 holiday sculptures around Fifth Avenue in the ’50s. Made out of bright lights and shiny materials, these sculptures are a fun added bonus, featuring a taxi, dreidel, teddy bear, and more. During these persistent, trying times in NYC, the holiday windows are a magical respite of holiday cheer and magic.