Sunday, October 11, 2020

The Manger on Fifth Avenue: The Story of Christmas Department Store Windows

“What happened to the manger?” quipped Alan Wiseman, a famous Saks Fifth Avenue window designer. “The Little Drummer Boy is missing!” he grumbled, storming through the display. “Did he break a drumstick?”

Shoppers on the street stopped to watch his bewilderment in the window, wondering what could be wrong. The Living Manger window display was about to premiere at any moment as soon as Alan could finish it. Every holiday season, the New Yorkers gathered outside the windows on Fifth Avenue to celebrate the season.  

“Where is the drummer’s mother?” Alan called, snapping photos. “We’re paying him by the hour to play the drums!”

Not only was Alan famous for his window displays, but also his portrait photography, which his wife Susan loved the most. Often times, Susan was the subject of his photography, especially when he wanted to practice new techniques. He had many famous clients in his photos, including models and actors, and he traveled the world, documenting other cultures. 

“I think the drummer went on a bathroom break,” Ewelina, his assistant, informed him, organizing the cameras and lights. She made sure to take photos of all the characters in the displays for housekeeping and budgeting purposes. 

The holidays, however, were Alan’s busiest season, with Christmas and Hanukkah themes in his window designs. This year, Alan created a magical manger, complete with a real baby, live animals, and an actual child drummer. Mannequins were usually used in Christmas displays, so nothing like this had ever been done before—with real people. At any moment, the animals were being delivered by the local zoo: a donkey, a camel, sheep, horses, pigs, and a dove.  

“I found this boy running through the jewelry department, banging his drum!” the Saks Fifth Avenue manager scolded, pulling the Little Drummer Boy by his ear, back to the window display. “Don’t let him out of your sight!”

“Stand right there and keep drumming!” Alan explained. “Have fun! Everyone is watching. People love you!”

“Alan, can I talk to you a minute?” Ewelina, whispered to Alan. “The baby Jesus has gone missing!”

“What do you mean that the baby Jesus has gone missing?” Alan repeated slowly. “All he has to do is sleep!”

“We might have a case of kidnapping!” Ewelina insisted. “I called the police to make a report.”

Meanwhile, shoppers gathered on the street to watch the unfolding drama, which was more interesting than the display. As the New York City Police Department Officer arrived with his gun and badge, Alan grew more frantic. 

“The baby was just supposed to lay there in the straw for a few daylight hours, and then he was going back to his mother until morning. I think she’s at L’Avenue at Saks for lunch! He’s such a cute baby. What happened to him?” 

“We need a baby Jesus, especially for Christmas morning, or the whole window display is a mess!” Ewelina cried.

“If we could at least find him by Christmas Eve,” Alan explained to the police officer. “Maybe a shopper took him!”

“We are going to search the entire department store, sir,” the police officer confirmed. “The department is on it!”

“I found this plastic baby in the toy section,” Ewelina sighed, unwrapping the stand-in from the cardboard box.

“Well, that will have to do until we find out what happened to the real baby,” Alan nodded. “Oh, look at the people on the street! They are watching all of our madness. We were just trying to make art. Art is alive. I wanted to experiment. Maybe I should shut down the manger window until I can come up with another idea. I have other work to finish, too!”

Next to the Living Manger, Saks Fifth Avenue featured Alan’s Silver Hanukkah Star and Golden Dreidel Windows. He also had a Snow Castle Window, a Santa Workshop Window, and New Year’s Eve Gala Window. Just when Alan was about to close down the Living Manger, the mother of the missing baby walked into the window. 

“The police officer told me that you were looking for my son!” Mary Louis apologized. “He was hungry. I was just breast-feeding him in the women’s bathroom. I couldn’t feed him in the window. He’s asleep now.”

“Mrs. Louis, we’re going to have to stick to a very strict feeding schedule. We’ll temporarily close the window when you’re feeding him,” Alan admonished. “Everyone is expecting for a baby to be in the straw. We thought someone stole him. Now, what times will you be feeding him? The characters in the window will take breaks then.”

The mother of the fictional baby Jesus, named George, pulled a piece of paper from her purse and scribbled down a breast-feeding schedule. 

“I will try my hardest to stick to the routine,” she promised, looking outside at the crowd.

“Better yet, you’re going to join the cast,” Alan decided. “You are his mother, so dress up like Mary and keep an eye on him! And find a Joseph to join you! We need some more adults in this display. The children are too feisty!”

Ewelina grabbed the people near her and added them to the display in outfits, complete with Wise Men and Shepherds. 

“I’m glad we have this all straightened out now!” the police officer cheered. “This will be the best Christmas ever!”

Later in the afternoon, when the animals were all in place with pooper scoopers at hand, the window went live! 

“Now, we just have to keep this scene going until the holidays are over!” Alan announced. “I know we can do it!” 

Then Alan’s phone rang. “It’s Susan!” he noticed. “She probably wonders what in the world is going on!”

As he looked out the window, he saw her on the street in the crowd of shoppers, calling on her cell phone. 

“Alan, the windows look marvelous!” she gushed. “How on earth did you do all of this! You make it look effortless!”

“Oh, honey, we hardly lifted a finger!” he slightly fibbed. “It came together all at once. Happy Holidays!”

“I have the best husband in the world!” Susan told the crowd. “He designed these windows, and he will even take your picture, too!”


Copyright 2021 Jennifer Waters 


Dedicated to Alan Weissman and Susan Minich

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