Ho ho ho! As longtime readers know, I am a big fan of Christmas. The decorations! The family togetherness! The holiday china! Yes, I serve all of our meals on our Lenox Holiday china every day in December–otherwise it would just be silly to collect it, right?
But. There has been a bit of a shadow over this year. As someone who grew up in Portland in the late ’70s and early ’80s, there were some treasured, longstanding traditions that finally gave up the ghost in 2017: Meier & Frank’s (and later Macy’s) iconic Santaland, and the Meier & Frank (later My Macy’s) Holiday Parade.
Founded in 1857 right here in Portland, Meier & Frank was a titan, a chain of department stores whose expansion was inextricably entwined in the development of our very city. But, more importantly, Santaland was amazing. Situated on the 10th floor of the landmark downtown Meier & Frank building, Santaland was a winter wonderland filled with animatronic elves and reindeer, glittering Christmas trees, and gaily wrapped gifts leading to the real Santa (with a real beard) who “remembered” your name year after year. The whole thing was placed smack-dab in the middle of a huge selection of toys and ringed from above with a monorail that gave kids a birds’ eye view of the entire floor.
My brother and me at the Meier & Frank Santaland, 1980.
As the years went by, changes came: the toys thinned out (Toys R Us cornered the market), Meier & Frank was changed to Macy’s, and then when the building was remodeled, Santaland was relocated to the basement, requiring only one escalator instead of the 10 my brother and I scaled each year. The monorail was dismantled with the move, leaving only two stationary cars on the floor for kids to climb on.
But with sales slumping and real estate prices climbing, Macy’s parent company, the May Company, put the building up for sale last year, breaking up Santaland and ending the parade after nearly 20 years.
That was sad enough, but also, I had continued the tradition, bringing my kids there for pictures with Santa! So clearly, priority #1 this year was finding a new place to see Santa and rekindle the Christmas spirit! Here are my discoveries and experiences:
Christmas in Dairyville: First off, I don’t know how I lived my life to this point without ever going here. Um, did everyone else know that Alpenrose has an entire “Western town” called Dairyville that includes an incredible “Storyville Lane” that’s like the Christmas equivalent of the Enchanted Forest? Because I did not. This is where we started our journey to make Christmas memories.
- Christmas in Dairyville is free to the public and huge!
- Storyville Lane is pretty rad–flocked trees, little vintage Christmas houses, live animals.
- They have face painting, ice cream (it was way too cold), food, and a gift shop.
- Lots of cool historical exhibits, from vintage pianos (?) to classic old Alpenrose trucks and sleighs.
- We were there for about an hour and a half before we went to find Santa, and found that there was a two-hour wait. (We did not wait, see below.) Next time we’ll go take a number as soon as we get there.
- The quality of the hot cocoa for sale was shockingly bad: clearly hot water with an inadequate amount of cocoa mix. Alpenrose is an actual dairy, why wouldn’t they offer, I don’t know, milk? Heat their own chocolate milk? It was not good.
My very patient children–especially my son, Sid, thank you–at the Oregon Historical Society.
Meier & Frank Santaland at the Oregon Historical Society: I was very excited when I heard that Macy’s had donated part of Santaland to the Oregon Historical Society. Yes! A place that would cherish and display Santaland and preserve this important piece of history! When I saw that Santa would be there, I bundled my husband and the kids into the car and drove there next.
- It’s free to the public (the Oregon Historical Society is also free to Multnomah County residents).
- There was almost no wait.
- Pictures are free–bring your camera or device and a helper will take your picture.
- While the picture on OHS’s website is of the entire Santaland, it’s actually just a tiny corner with Rudolph, a couple of elves, and Santa’s chair. Don’t get me wrong–I’m so happy they have it. But my expectations were a little higher.
- Unlike the traditional Santaland Santa, OHS’s Santa did not have a real beard.
Santaland at the Lloyd Center Macy’s: Soon after our trip to OHS, I learned that the Lloyd Center Macy’s also had a piece of Santaland! Recapturing my Christmas memories was starting to resemble a game of Pokemon–I now have to run around and catch them all. But I needed to return some clothes to Old Navy, so Sarah and I went for a visit.
- Again, free.
- This was actually a larger display that OHS’s–a little scenescape with the animatronic elves decorating the tree and pushing a gift-laden cart.
- Near the Frango chocolates display. More nostalgia!
- No Santa (there’s a main mall Santa instead).
Monorail Exhibit at Pioneer Place: Oh my goodness. I am tired just typing this. I then discovered that the monorail cars are on display at the Pioneer Place Mall downtown. I have not witnessed this myself, but I doubt I will be able to resist checking it out. Is it near Hipster Santa? (UGH.)
I’m left with so many questions. Where are the rest of Santa’s reindeer? Or Macy’s 12 Days of Christmas window displays? What will move into the old Meier & Frank building? Is it time to relinquish my death grip on my childhood Christmas memories? My very patient husband–and children–might appreciate it.
Other Christmas treasures I’ve enjoyed this year:
The Hollywood Theatre has been playing Christmas matinees on the weekend, so I got to see White Christmas on the big screen for the first time ever, which was awesome. They will be playing a series of animated Christmas shorts, including Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol, 12/23 at 2:00 pm.
Broadway Floral Home & Garden have some really beautiful wreaths for about $20. No bows, but I saved mine from years past.
We drove to three different Christmas tree lots in the bitter cold looking for a decent noble fir, but Fred Meyer ended up having the best option, at the best price ($41.99 for a 5-6 footer). They are extremely picked over, however.
Grocery Outlet Bargain Market has largish poinsettias for $6.99, a real bargain compared to $9.99 at Fred Meyer. Also, extremely cheap cheese, a must for any holiday gathering.
So what are your holiday musts and recommendations? Post them below!