Macy’s Santaland: A 161-year-old tradition that brings holiday magic to NYC’s Herald Square

November 29, 2022

All photos by Eugene Gologursky/Getty Images for Macy’s Inc

“He’s so kind and nice and jolly. He’s not like anyone else. He must be Santa.” That’s what little Natalie Wood says about the Herald Square Macy’s Santa Claus in the 1947 classic “Miracle on 34th Street.” And to this day, the jolly man in red remains at the helm of the iconic department store’s annual Santaland. Since 1861, Macy’s has been inviting children and adults to experience the wonder of Santa Claus (though the Herald Square building was not erected until 1901), but what people may not know is that, much like the spirit of Christmas, Santaland exists all year long behind locked doors. On the day after Thanksgiving, the doors are opened, letting holiday magic spill out once again.

The Santaland set stays pretty much the same each year, honoring tradition, with small tweaks and updates each year. Most recently, due to Covid, the Santa meet and greet was changed from the typical sitting-on-Santa’s-lap experience to sitting at his desk with him, checking his list not once, but twice. Santa’s house also got some upgrades recently thanks to a team that gets brought in every year to keep things fresh.

Another Covid-era “tradition” back for 2022 is online reservations as well as a virtual experience for those who can’t make it to New York City in person. The virtual experience brings “guests” to an animated map of Santaland, and, guided by an elf, they can visit different areas as well as e-meet Santa.

Inside Santaland, families will pass over the rainbow bridge and ride in a train, meeting many characters, like Mrs. Claus and Tiptoe, the blue reindeer who graces the store’s front entrance this year, before getting to the Man in Red. Tiptoe is a reindeer who is afraid to fly, but with help of a machine called the Barometrically Elevating Levitation Instigation Engine with Vehicular Enhancement (B.E.L.I.E.V.E), she is able to overcome her fear. Tiptoe made her debut during last year’s Thanksgiving Day parade.

Kathleen Wright is the director of production operations at Macy’s, which means she’s in charge of all the fun stuff from the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade to its annual Fourth of July firework show. But Santaland, she said, is unlike any other event.

“I don’t have kids, but I bring my family in with their kids and there is nothing like seeing a child experience the magic of Santa for the first time,” Wright said. “It’s exciting and heartwarming. I’m looking forward to it.”

This season, the Herald Square Macy’s entrance is adorned with the phrase “Give Love.” It’s a reminder — especially in an era when brick-and-mortar stores are falling victim to online shopping— that New York City’s department stores are not just about shopping for material things. They are at the heart of the holidays each year.

Window displays up and down Fifth Avenue and the one right here at Herald Square are integral to the magic of the holidays in the Big Apple, drawing thousands of people out onto the frosty December sidewalks.

“Macy’s and Herald Square really is a New York City institution…Just seeing, not only the New Yorkers, but all the tourists that come to visit — it’s iconic,” said Wright. “I think we do so many things. It’s not just for shopping; it’s about creating experiences and having families come to experience holidays. It’s not just about gift giving.”

This year, Macy’s holiday windows, which take between eight and nine months to create, offer a glimpse into different whimsical worlds. There’s a gingerbread world, yarn world, wood world (which shows us the inside of a Christmas tree), paper world, flannel world, and mirror world. It takes hundreds of people from artists, designers, carpenters, electricians, and puppeteers to bring the magic to life. And the windows are the first invitation families get to enter the store and travel the old-school elevators to the 8th floor where Santa resides.

St. Nick also visits Santaland at Macy’s stores in Philadelphia, Boston, Atlanta, Chicago, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., but there is nothing like the miracle that happens on 34th Street each year.

R. H. Macy and Company department store during the week before Christmas. Children line up to talk with Santa Claus. They are two Santas, concealed from one another by a labyrinth to prevent the disillusionment of the children. Each child is presented with candy and tells Santa his or her desires. United States New York New York State, 1942. Dec. Photograph. Library of Congress Digital Collections

“This is a more than 160-year-old tradition [that has] amazed generations,” said Wright. “We hear those stories all the time — ‘I came as a kid and now I bring my kids.’ They come…back and share and pass the tradition on…it helps bring magic to an already magical experience.”

Visitors can make reservations here five days prior to their visit. Reservations open daily at 6:30 a.m.  Santaland at Macy’s Herald Square will be open until December 24.


Photos by Eugene Gologursky/Getty Images for Macy’s Inc, unless otherwise noted

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