Why Are Santalands Becoming Extinct?

No, we weren’t models. My mom liked to dress us up like life-sized dolls. Why does Santa look like Woody Allen?

Why are Santalands becoming extinct?

As a kid, the highlight of the Christmas season was venturing to downtown Indianapolis to visit the Santaland at L.S. Ayres department store.

My mother meticulously dressed us up, literally from head to toe.  I still have the dents in my head from sleeping in rollers to attain those Shirley Temple-like curls.

Hey tween girls – I bet you can’t find these bitch’in pants suits among the bling at Justice.

Perhaps “the Biebs” should have taken a lesson from my mother on how to dress for a formal occasion and replaced his bib-overhauls with a nice plaid jacket, blue britches and orange knee socks when meeting the Prime Minister of Canada.

Many department stores decorated their store windows with life-like mechanical dolls acting out scenes of Christmas but the ones at Ayres were the absolute best.

I actually had the privilege of working as an elf in the Santaland at Lazarus during high school.  There is no greater power than being the voice of the Talking Tree while heckling shoppers and unsuspecting classmates.  It was the ultimate revenge of the nerd.

As part of our yearly ritual, we dinned in the Tea Room of L.S. Ayres, which was actually very expansive and elegantly decorated full-service restaurant.  The kid’s food specialty was The Hobo, a hot dog wrapped in a bandanna hanging from a stick.  After the meal, all the kids could pick a prize from the Treasure Chest – the original lead-free toy happy meal.

With bellies full, it was finally time to see the big guy who lived in Santaland while he was in town.

Santaland visitors didn’t just walk up to see Santa, they actually took a train ride through a magical recreation of The North Pole.  The ride seemed to take hours though it was probably a total of two minutes.

For whatever reason, Santalands seem to have disappeared from major department stores.  Maybe it’s a result of cost-cutting, needing more space to sell widgets or the pressure to be “politically correct.”   It’s really a shame.

Fortunately, the folks at The Indiana State Museum have recreated the Tea Room, window displays and Santaland under the umbrella of Celebration Crossing.  What a treat to be able to relive this special holiday adventure and share it with my own child.

As I relived a ride to see Santa on the Santa Claus Express, I was just thankful there were no sparks on the tracks and the elves did not need a shoe horn to get me in or out of the train.

Recreation of L.S. Ayres Santaland. View from the Santa Claus Express train.

The L.S. Ayres Christmas windows.

A recreation of the L.S. Ayres Tea Room at The Indiana State Museum

Enjoying a glory days ride on The Santa Express while hoping the sparks on the track don’t ignite my beloved Santaland.

© 2012, Terri Spilman


14 thoughts on “Why Are Santalands Becoming Extinct?

  1. Very nice! I’d never heard about Santalands before. We’re very lucky to live in a small town next to San Diego that goes all Santa one night a year. There are lots of activities for the kids, live music, carriage rides, Christmas carol singing and of course, Santa is there too. We have lots of fun going every year!

  2. Oh, how fun! I never went to a Santaland, though I knew of them and enjoy watching the one on “A Christmas Story” every year. And, of course, Sedaris’s “Santaland Diaries.”
    Is that you there, on the bottom, enjoying the ride?

    • Yes, that’s me crammed in the train car. I love the Santaland in “A Christmas Story.” In the movie, it takes place in northern Indiana. I need to read Sedaris’s “Santaland Diaries.” Good suggestion.

  3. I remember driving downtown to Famous Barr Department Store. We would wait for hours in lines that wrapped around the whole floor. It was usually a full day affair. Each kid would get a wrapped toy, pink for girls, blue for boys.

  4. As a child, my mom would drag me and my sister/brother down to Woolworths. In front of the store, outside, stood a tiny white house–Christmas decorations everywhere. Inside the house sat…*SANTA*…and you’d sit on his lap, get a pic snapped, and a candy cane on your way out. You described your trip to see Santa wonderfully. It bought back a lot of great memories!

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