Sunday, December 25, 2011

Wishing You a Merry Christmas!

Shown above is an early 1970’s edition of one of the largest indoor Christmas trees in the world, and certainly the most famous one of any kind in the Chicago area – the “Great Tree” inside the Walnut Room restaurant at the legendary State Street home of Marshall Field & Company.

The Walnut Room (named for its beautiful walnut paneling) and the tree tradition date all the way back to 1907, when the current-day Marshall Field building, which evolved over a couple of decades on the corner of State and Washington streets, took on the form that is still largely recognizable today.

Standing 45 feet tall and sporting 5,000 or more ornaments and too many lights to count, the Great Tree was actually a real tree until recent decades when more stringent fire codes were imposed. Every year, a Marshall Field manager was assigned the task of traveling to Mellen, Wisconsin, a half hour from Lake Superior. There, with the assistance of local timbermen, he would select the perfect fir tree to be cut down and shipped by rail 400 miles back to Chicago. The annual lighting of the “Marshall Field’s Tree” was a big event, broadcast on and off over the years on Chicago’s WGN –TV.

For several years, our family had a tradition where the folks rousted us out of bed at 7am the day after Thanksgiving to drive downtown for breakfast at the Walnut Room, where we endeavored to be seated as close to the tree as possible. There were always long lines, but we usually ended up with good seats. These were the late 70’s and early 80’s, when Field’s launched their annual “Marshall Field’s & Christmas” campaign every year at this time, complete with commemorative hot chocolate mugs to take home. When this tradition started we were already teenagers, a period of time when I became “too cool” for a great many things, but somehow it always got through to me.

With the passing of time, much has changed, not the least of which is the name on the front doors of the store. (The name on the corner of the store remains the same, thanks to the National Register of Historic Places.) When my family and I were in Chicago this past Thanksgiving, we popped in to take a quick 3-minute look at the Walnut Room. The tree was still beautiful, the lines were still long, and I assume the food was still good. All I know is that the people I saw were having a great time. Oh, and that there’s very little I’m too cool for anymore.

I want to take this opportunity to thank you for your readership, loyalty and friendship during a year when I posted here far less than I wanted to. Hopefully what was new here you found to be enjoyable and informative.

And once again, may the True Joy of Christmas be yours, may your holidays be great and spent with family and friends, and best wishes for a wonderful and healthy New Year!



  1. Considering how much work you put into your posts, it is well worth the wait between them. Thank you!

  2. That certainly is a more pleasant Black Friday tradition than standing in line all night to be the first into Walmart at 4 AM.

  3. Thank you for all your posts. It always makes my day when I drop in and there is a new one to read. And sometimes I amuse myself by exploring previous ones I have yet to read. I can't tell you how much I enjoy them.

  4. I love the tree tradition at Marshall Field that you discussed here. And that they're still doing it warms the heart. It seems that department stores have lost so much tradition. Hoping your family have had a great holiday season.

  5. Wonderful posts these past few days. So glad you see you blogging again :)

  6. What a great memory to share--and it was especially nice to read that the Walnut Room's holiday traditions are still going strong!

    Hope you had a terrific Christmas Dave, and like the others--thanks for the wonderful pieces here, this is one of the few blogs I actually enjoy going back & reading the older stuff again--and again! Happy New Year :)

  7. KoHoSo – Thanks to you, and Happy New Year!

    Paul – Indeed it was. Well-behaved crowds there, and no super-specials on widescreen TV’s! :)

    Susan – Thank you so much, I appreciate that. Glad that you enjoy reading “the backlog” as well!

    Mike – It is a great tradition, and from I saw this year they’ve done a nice job of maintaining it. I know the Macy’s subject is still controversial in Chicago, but at least the value of Walnut Room and its great tree continues to be recognized and respected.

    Diana – Thank you, and it’s good to be back – sorry for the long gaps!

    Doug – We had a great Christmas, and I hope the same was true for you. Thanks for the wonderful compliment – I’m happy you find this “re-readable”. Happy New Year!

  8. My grandfather raised and decorated the Marshall Field tree for almost twenty years. I don't know if this is his (I have heard he retired after the 1970 tree), but it gives me a great vision of his work. Thanks for the memories.