Windows into the world of Christmas



A walk down Henry Street, O’Connell Street or Grafton Street in Dublin seems much brighter these days as Christmas wreaths glisten, trees shimmer and fantastical scenes peer out from shop windows.

Many displays have been up for weeks, while some have just recently been revealed. They join a tradition of window displays stretching back more than a hundred years.

The concept was pioneered in the mid-1800s in department stores like Macy’s in New York and Marshall Field’s in Chicago.

After the second World War, the idea developed and windows were strung together to tell a story or help create a Christmas theme, a trend continued in windows like those of Brown Thomas on Grafton Street.

These windows would go on to create a tradition stretching from New York City to tradition spread right across the globe from surfing Santas down under in Australia.

Shoppers can even find small window displays in countries like Cambodia and South Africa.

These fantasies behind glass, while part of a marketing push during the biggest shopping season of the year, are the handiwork of designers who spend months creating them.

In Clery’s, a figure skater balances precariously on one foot, a product of a challenging hunt for ice skates in Dublin and hours of painstaking effort helping the skater to balance.

Strings stretching to different body parts stabilise the unsteady skater as she helps creates the store’s ‘Christmas in a million’ windows.

Rowena Doyle, visual merchandising manager at Clery’s says the window starts with a brainstorming session in the middle of summer. “We write it all down on a big sheet of paper, throw the craziest ones out and then go from there,” Ms Doyle said.

Orla Keane, a visual merchandiser for Arnotts, said the designer for this year’s ‘Wish upon a Star’ windows travelled to Germany to get props and decorations in June.

While most commonly associated with department storesn the concept has spread. Dublin’s GPO once again its traditional Christmas window display stretching across the historic façade.

Elves and penguins play in the windows while Santa watches across the display. Inside, a crib stretches across the side wall, and polar bears frolic near the Santa Box, where children send their Christmas lists to the North Pole.

“It’s really lovely, really magical, really child friendly,” said one shopper who stepped into the post office with her young son.

She said her family are “suckers” for Christmas decorations, and thinks the windows provide a little something extra to the holiday experience.

“It goes beyond trying to sell merchandise. It’s the stores trying to give a little bit back to the customers,” she says. “It adds a little bit of magic to Christmas.”