Canal Street and Christmas have a long history together in New Orleans. Starting in the middle of the 19th century, Canal Street merchants began decorating their windows, enticing buyers in by highlighting the nicest items in their inventories. But it was more than just commerce – it was a chance to socialize and share the holiday spirit. Christmas Eve found crowds of people strolling along and enjoying the displays.
As time passed, these once-simple candlelit windows became more and more elaborate. While World Wars in the first half of the 1900s tempered the displays, mid-century saw a resurgence of the highest order. It started with the debut of Maison Blanche’s Mr. Bingle in ’48. His first incarnation as a giant papier-mâché figure adorning the front of the department store was soon joined by all-day puppet shows in the front window and later, his own TV show.
Other Canal Street area businesses, such as D. H. Holmes and Mark Isaacs, also erected elaborate scenes in their own windows, complete with music, lights and animated figures. Sears and Roebuck erected a four-story tall Santa Claus every year. Hotels on and near Canal Street decorated lavishly as well; most notable were the St. Charles Hotel’s Christmas trees and the lobby of the Roosevelt Hotel (later known as the Fairmont). Not to be outshone by its surroundings, Canal Street itself was bedecked with wreaths, trees and holiday imagery, drawing locals down in droves to enjoy the sparkling lights and, of course, to see and be seen in their holiday finest.