Not just for Goys: Why nobody can resist a holiday window

It’s so great being Jewish over the holidays. There’s no pressure surrounding Christmas; just a bunch of fun stuff (office parties, gingerbread latte) if you happen to feel like it, and some other bits (eggnog, I’m looking at you) that you can safely ignore. And from mid-November onward, a trip to see the holiday windows is the ultimate low-stakes pleasure. It’s free, and everyone can do it.

Even in an era of virtual reality headsets, standing out in the street peering at an illuminated, bauble-filled window somehow still feels magical — a link to those snow-filled fairytale scenes from a century ago. Macy’s claims to have been the first department store to introduce Christmas displays in the 1870s, and holiday windows have been getting ever more elaborate since. These days New York hotels even produce walking maps so that visitors don’t miss a single display.

The Early Bird

So what’s on the list this year? Across the Atlantic, Selfridges in London’s Oxford Street was the first department store in the world to unveil its holiday windows, revealing a rock ‘n roll theme in the middle of October, a full two months before Christmas.

Selfridge's Rock and Roll Windows

The Magic of Fifth Avenue

Fifth Avenue in New York is the holiday window heartland, and this season’s themes will not disappoint. Unveiled on November 19th, Saks Fifth Avenue is paying homage to Broadway with an extravaganza of animated storytelling and a live performance entitled Theatre of Dreams, featuring over 100 dancers.

Bloomingdales, meanwhile, has taken inspiration from Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch for its interactive windows, which offer plenty of opportunities to join in the fun and, yes, take a selfie.

Bloomingdales Holiday Windows 2018
Photograph: Courtesy Joe Schildhorn/BFA.com

Windows with Heart

Over on the West Coast, Macy’s in San Francisco has been teaming up with San Francisco SPCA for over thirty years, putting adoptable cats and dogs in its windows and finding homes for over 9,000 animals in the process. As a Brit, I was reared on dog charity commercials showing heartrending images of puppies abandoned by the side of the freeway and reminders that “a dog is for life, not just for Christmas.” So initially, I was not completely on board with this concept.

Macy's SPCA

Working a shift collecting donations for the SPCA outside the Macy’s windows last year, however, soon convinced me. Everyone was so happy! “It’s my favorite holiday tradition,” passers-by would confide, slipping their dollars into the collection box. Others looked longingly at the puppies and kittens yawning and generally in the window, but without rushing upstairs to adopt one; this being such a pet-friendly city, many of them owned rescue animals already. Honestly, it was fabulous.

How much longer can holiday windows last?

These days, we’re increasingly doing our shopping online, to the extent that even Black Friday is less of an event than it used to be. Fifth Avenue will shine slightly less brightly this year thanks to the imminent closure of Lord & Taylor’s flagship. The hallmark retailer, famous for its windows back in the day, is only devoting two windows for the holidays instead of the usual six.

My advice? Get out there and press your nose against the glass while you still can.

Susannah Cohen
Susannah Cohen is a fashion journalist, e-commerce editor (specialist subjects: lingerie and diamonds) and Jewish mom. Recently relocated from London to the West Coast, she’s feeling a lot more spiritual these days.