It’s often odious to make comparisons between a bygone era and the Sydney of today but at least it gives us some insight into the way this mighty metropolis has changed over the years – for better or for worse. With Christmas fast approaching, and the emphasis very much on the retail buck, it’s an appropriate time to look back at the manner in which the festive season was celebrated some 50 or 60 years ago – and perhaps how different it is in 2018.
In post war Sydney, before the big shopping malls spread throughout the suburbs, it was the CBD and the big department stores that led the way with both Christmas shopping and a fantasy world for kids and adults alike. David Jones, Mark Foys, Grace Bros and Anthony Hordern’s all sought to outdo each other with not just shop windows but with magical floor wide ‘winter wonderland’ displays. A stinking hot Australian summer? No problem when you could step into an enchanted domain of snow encrusted Christmas trees, a massive Santa’s castle, Santas galore and everything that reeked of a traditional English Christmas.
The massive Anthony Hordern Emporium, with its 21 hectares of retail space, on the corner of George and Goulburn Streets in the CBD, often led the way with a Christmas extravaganza that drew shoppers from all over the state. No expense was sparred with Christmas displays often imported especially from overseas. Animatronic elves hammered out toys for Santa and the old whitebeard himself drew a long line of eager children with the store photographer there to capture that special moment. Throughout Sydney Santas were everywhere – no self respecting department store flogging children’s toys, was without one.
All this Christmas entertainment was free, although the payoff for the stores was the thousands of shoppers who made the annual pilgrimage to the city to buy their Christmas presents. These days much of that festive action has moved to the suburbs with events such as the Sydney Santa Spectacular at Rosehill charging between $40 and $60 a ticket, although generously under two’s are admitted free!
Whilst David Jones still has its traditional Christmas windows and other stores deck out with assorted Xmas bunting, there’s still not quite the celebratory atmosphere that existed say in the 50s and 60s when the entire city embraced the event. There’s a giant Christmas tree in the QVB and another in Martin Place, somewhat ironical given the Berejeklian government’s decision to expand the logging of coastal forests. The City Of Sydney Council does their best to inject a bit of the Christmas spirit into the endless hell that is the light rail construction and various activities are organised for kids and adults alike. But still no Christmas tree in Walla Mulla Park!
Given the numerous problems that currently beset the city, like the constant traffic congestion, the light rail hell and the plight of the homeless, the cynical might see it a bit like putting lipstick on a pig – or to extend the metaphor, a leg of Christmas dinner ham. Millenials might well rejoice in all the window dressing and LED lights whilst the old school shrug it off as just another piece of manufactured joy.
Whatever the situation the day after Christmas all that yuletide stuff is quickly forgotten as the charge is on for the Boxing Day sales.