Walk into Macy’s at 13th and Market Streets (formerly John Wanamaker’s department store) from November 28 through December 31 and you’ll see crowds of people standing in the grand court staring upward at the now famous Christmas Light Show.
Yes, that’s Julie Andrews you hear.
I remember seeing the original show for the first time as a child. I could not have been more than 3 or 4 years old. The happy music, blinking lights and dancing water fountain seemed like magic to me. My grandmother then took me a few blocks east to Gimbel’s department store for a walk through the Christmas village and ultimately, a visit with Santa Claus.
I thought it would be interesting to compare the Wanamaker’s and Macy’s productions. While I like the updated version, I do miss the dancing water fountains.
The original John Wanamaker’s Christmas Light Show (archival recording 1983)
The Philadelphia John Wanamaker’s department store premiered their iconic Christmas Light Show in 1955. The show, a large music and light display several stories high, is viewable from several levels of the Philadelphia landmark. Its popularity as a holiday destination for tourists and locals alike ensured a continuous run, even after the building changed ownership from Wanamaker’s to Lord & Taylor, and now Macy’s. The show was narrated for decades by Philadelphia’s own John Facenda, locally known for reporting the news on radio and television, as well as nationally as the voice of NFL Films. Various announcers narrated the show between 1995 and 2005. Beginning in 2006, under Macy’s, Julie Andrews became the show’s narrator.
In 2007, the entire Christmas Light Show was completely modernized and rebuilt by Macy’s Parade Studio on new trusses with lighter materials and LED lighting. In 2008, a new and bigger Magic Christmas Tree with LED lights debuted. However, due to safety concerns and logistical issues, the dancing water fountains were retired and will not return.
John Wanamaker Christmas Show from the 1980’s.
The Updated Macy’s Christmas Light Show (2013)
“The updated holiday show, titled “Christmas Pageant of Lights,” features narration by the actress Julie Andrews” – via hdampf007
According to Friends of the Wanamaker Organ at Macy’s website, the light show program is as follows…
Greg Sonsini has compiled a list below of music used in the Light Show. Help is requested in finding the artists of those works not yet identified. Please e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you can add details.
- Opening fanfare during John Facenda’s/Julie Andrews’ introduction: Provenance unknown.
- Selections from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite-specifically “Overture,” “Waltz of the Flowers,” and “Closing Waltz,” played during the Nutcracker storyline. Album unknown.
- “In The Clock Store” by Charles Orth (1893), which is played during the Clock segment. The version used in the Light Show comes from an album titled “The Sound Of Musical Pictures” (1960). It was arranged by Ralph Hermann and played by the Medallion Concert Band. Walt Disney adapted the piece for one of his Silly Symphonies in 1931. You may here it on YouTube here.
- “Alpine Sleigh Ride” by Frank Chacksfield and his Orchestra, played during the Snowflake sequence.
- “Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer,” by the Ray Conniff Singers.
- “Jingle Bell Rock” by Bobby Helms, later replaced by “The Rudi Bear Song” (part of a Teddy Bear promotion), played during the candy cane, toy soldier and toy drum segment.
- “Parade of the Wooden Soldiers” by an unknown artist played during the Santa Express Train segment.
- “Frosty the Snowman,” by the Ray Conniff Singers.
- A snippet of “So Long, Farewell” from “The Sound of Music” movie soundtrack, played during the fading of the snowmen.
- “O Tannenbaum” by the Hollywood Bowl Symphony Orchestra played during the final lighting of the entire board. This was replaced in 1988 by “Deck the Halls” by an artist that I have not been able to identify. The arrangement is by Carmen Dragon and has been adopted for the Wanamaker Organ (with grateful assistance from Mr. Dragon’s daughter) by Peter Richard Conte.
For more information, see the Friends of the Wanamaker Organ website.
You can find some interesting archival photos from Temple University
Also visit U Wish U NU