It’s In The Bag: Christmas Memories From Miller & Rhoads
It’s my job to get the ornaments down from the attic and help my mom decorate my parents’ Christmas tree. A few weeks ago, as I rummaged through all sorts of boxes and furniture in their dimly lit attic, I noticed a forgotten box marked “ornaments.” Oh no, there can’t be more! I dug further, hoping the box was mislabeled. I peeled back the aging tape to lift the lid. I gasped! Placed carefully atop the contents of the box was this shopping bag:
It’s he! Real Santa! A rush of excitement and memories filled my mind as I saw the image of his face. I remembered a Miller & Rhoads commercial, shot in that dreamy, fuzzy VHS tape-style from the 1980s. Santa turns to the camera at the end of the commercial and says, “Shhhhh!” with his white-gloved finger to his rosy mouth. Oh to be a kid again and so ecstatic for Santa!
The best thing about Christmas in Richmond when I was growing up, of course, was visiting the real Santa. He put on a show at a shop downtown called Miller & Rhoads. There were lots of Santas around Richmond at Christmas time, but if you wanted to see the real Santa do his thing, your mom had to take you downtown.
Getting ready to visit the real Santa was no small feat. It required putting on your Sunday school dress, socks with complicated shoes, and you had to brush your hair. And once you actually got to Santaland, it was total chaos!—the long lines, the moms and kids everywhere, everyone wearing red and white. I eagerly made way to Santa’s elegantly appointed Tea Room. My favorite table was set with a white tablecloth and teacups for hot chocolate, just along the catwalk leading to the big stage. The stage was set with a big gilded chair and a huge fireplace. Heavy Christmas stockings hung from the mantel. The Snow Queen was there, always so gorgeous. Bruce the Spruce, the talking Christmas tree, did an opening act before Santa came down the chimney.
All manners abandoned, I was standing on the cushion of my chair and singing my head off with Santa and all of the children to the dramatic piano accompaniment. After singing “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” Santa did his amazing feat—he chugged an entire glass of milk—the sound of his chugging reverberating into the microphone and all over the room! “Don’t try that at home!” he exclaimed. Reindeer cake was served—the best yellow sheet cake with white icing and decorative holiday sprinkles.
It’s amazing how the discovery of one artifact from the past can conjure such memories and remind one of so many dreams. It is my Christmas wish for all the children in the world to experience the joy and excitement of their respective holiday customs and traditions. I also hope that with the help of so many historical societies, grownups will always be able to preserve and hand down to future generations artifacts from our childhood experiences.
Lizzie Oglesby is the Member and Visitor Services Officer at the Virginia Historical Society.