Birmingham Holiday traditions then and now!
December 15, 2022 · 20th Street, Culture & History, Holidays, Visit
Christmas in Birmingham is like no other. As early as the 1880s, Birmingham transformed the streets of downtown into a Christmas Wonderland. Not only were the avenues a destination themselves, but the department stores like Loveman’s and the Pizitz went over and beyond to create a magical experience for their customers.
Some may recall the Enchanted Forest at the Pizitz or the Christmas light display on 20th street; Birmingham has a rich history and continues to create new traditions. As we take you through a deep dive into the historic holiday seasons, Birmingham is continuing to change to be a more inclusive and vibrant city.
Department Store Magic
The rivalry between the Loveman’s and the Pizitz’s department store began in the 1920s when a Loveman’s ad introduced a meet and greet with Santa Claus at the beginning of their holiday season. The Pizitz fought back and stole their Santa with a better proposition. From there, the annual battle of the store Santa Clauses began! Every year new projects were created to compete with one another. That’s when the Pizitz launched the Enchanted Forest on the sixth floor.
The Enchanted Forest was a step up to the outside facing window displays. From falling snow to twinkling lights, the Enchanted Forest was a Christmas-themed walk through experience with animated figurines to exhibit an Enchanted forest. Not only could you meet Santa, but you could get some holiday shopping in.
To compete, Loveman’s created a campaign to eat Breakfast with Santa! On weekday mornings, the restaurant in the mezzanine served breakfast to share a meal with Santa himself. However, underneath St. Nick’s white beard was Birmingham’s broadcasting legend, Dave Campbell. Not only did he play Santa, he was also a TV personality on WAPI-TV. Loveman’s began a holiday tradition for families in Birmingham and can still be recognized today by Generation X.
Under the Christmas lights
The city of Birmingham used to embellish the streets of downtown with large lights displays on 20th street. The city’s efforts were to help promote holiday shopping at local retailers. In the 1950s, First to Fifth Avenue from Eighteenth to Twenty-first Streets were completely decked out in garland, lights, and a massive star suspended over First, Second, and Third avenue. The Enchanted Land of Christmas Lights held a tree lighting, prizes, and a chance to meet Santa. Woodrow Wilson Park held this event for years to come, and the traces left behind are seen today with the Linn Park tree lighting celebration!
The Regions tower illuminates The Magic City’s skyline each year. This tradition started in the 70s when the building was built. It was planned to illuminate every night year-round however, when the energy crisis hit in the late 1970s, the lighting was suspended to support energy conservation. The lights are now seen every year after Thanksgiving and continue to be a unique Birmingham tradition. Can you name each display on the sides of the Regions building? Find the answers at the end of this article!
While the holiday scene has certainly changed in downtown Birmingham since the 1950s, downtown still takes pride in the holiday season. The Magic City has kept old traditions and started new ones to create a more inclusive downtown community. You can catch a holiday film at the Alabama Theater, walk through the streets to see holiday window art displays, attend several holiday markets, and even watch the Nutcracker. You can learn more about all the holiday events this season here! As Birmingham continues to grow, the magic of downtown will only get better.
Want to learn more about the history of the holidays in Birmingham? Check out “Christmas in Birmingham” by Tim Hollis!
Answer: The Regions building has a stocking, a Christmas tree, a wreath, and “JOY” on the four sides of the buildings.
(PHOTO SOURCE: BIRMINGHAM NEWS / AL.COM ARCHIVES)
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