If you were a pre-90’s kid in the central Ohio area, you probably made at least one visit to the downtown Lazarus to visit Santa Claus in Santaland. From the time that I was the only grandchild until I was the oldest of 6 grandchildren and in my 30s (yes, my 30s), we made visiting Santa a yearly tradition. Until the downtown Lazarus stopped featuring Santa and other holiday activities for families, Santaland was our go-to spot for family Christmas festivities.
I remember so fondly driving to the “big city” and watching out the window of the car the entire trip until I could see the city skyline and the Christmas tree in lights on top of the Lazarus building. It was exhilarating walking into the department store and seeing all the beautiful Christmas decorations. The trek to Santaland usually meant a ride on the escalators or elevator to an upper floor where some sort of marked “trail” which (of course!) went directly through the toy department.
I have very different memories of what actually made up Santaland over the years. One year, the line to see Santa wound through a Christmas display featuring animal characters in various holiday tableaus. Another season, the visit to Santa concluded with a ride on an indoor carousel. And almost every year there was a craft area where children could color Christmas ornaments to take home and put on their tree.
Speaking of trees…a visit to Santaland wasn’t complete without a visit to “Mr. Tree,” the talking tree. Honestly, as a small child, I was always intimidated (frightened?) by Mr. Tree. But many, many children have fond memories of that old tree singing Christmas carols and sticking out his giant pink tongue at people as they strolled by.
After waiting in line for an hour (or more! to see Santa, coloring ornaments, and visiting (or, hiding from) Mr. Tree, children went shopping by themselves for presents for their family members. I just loved the Secret Santa shop at Lazarus. There was a small door that only kids could fit through so parents couldn’t see what was being purchased for them. Children had their own “personal shopper” to help them pick out just the perfect gifts, and they stood in line to pay for them all by themselves (with the money their parents gave them). Then the Secret Santa “elves” wrapped the purchases up for the kids so parents had no idea what had been picked out for them. It was such a grown-up feeling getting to do all of that, and I loved it.
I greatly cherish the memories I made with my family at Santaland. I am so grateful to my parents for keeping that tradition alive for 30 years. Every Christmas season I think about our visits to Santaland and wish I had something similar I could do with my children. Sure, we do a lot of the holiday activities around town – we always visit Wildlights at the zoo, take the kids to have their picture taken with one of the mall Santas, visit the Christmas train display at the downtown library. But, to me, nothing will compare to those treasured visits to Lazarus and Santaland.
I’m not the only one. Many of my friends have fond memories of Santaland as well:
“We would make a whole day of it. Living in Bexley, my mom and I would park the car at her church on Broad St. and take the bus down to City Center. We NEVER took the bus, so this was a big deal. It always made me feel so special and like we lived in NYC. I felt like I was the little girl from Miracle on 34th St.!” – Gail M.
“I was scared to death of that tree! I remember stepping out of an elevator into a room completely decorated (a la “Elf”) and we had to wait in a long winding line to see Santa.” – Julie R.
So, what do you do with your children to create those long-lasting Christmas memories? I’d love to hear what other families are doing to make the season special!