Yesterday I needed to run an errand for work, and at this particular job, it means walking eight blocks to the Philadelphia Macy’s. I know this sounds commercial and crass, but it truly is one of my favorite places in the city. Gorgeous old building, complete with the largest operational pipe organ in the world, built for the 1904 World’s Fair and now overlooking faceless mannequins hawking designer pashminas. I used to live near that Macy’s when I first moved to town, and would sometimes go in on cold afternoons just to find a quiet bench and listen to the organist give concerts, playing old standards and showtunes as everyone around me bought things I couldn’t afford.
Anyway, so, I’m on this errand, and I’m running a little late, and I find myself pushing through these hordes of holiday shoppers. As I finally dodge and weave my way through ladies’ shoes on my quest for the jewelry counter, I realize that they’re all there to see the holiday light show. I’d never actually seen it before, though apparently it’s the thing you do when you’re a kid growing up near here, you pack the family in the car and head down to Macy’s. The organ is covered with this giant, beautiful tree, backed by the beautifully lit organ and a canopy of twinkling lights.
And I have this incredibly ugly gut reaction, like, ugh, fuck you, fuck all you people. I literally have like twenty minutes to find the right pair of earrings, have my boss approve them, and get them back to the museum by the end of the day. I don’t know what you’re doing, but me? I’m at work right now. I don’t have time for you people with your cameras, your fidgety babies, your luxury strollers that are approximately the same size as my car.
And then the show starts.
It’s narrated by Julie Andrews. You know. THE Julie Andrews. The voice of our childhoods: Mary Poppins, Maria Von Trapp, Cinderella. For a moment there, I stopped what I was doing, and I stopped paying attention to the thousands of twinkling price tags, and looked at the thousands of twinkling lights instead.
It’s completely magical. It feels decidedly low-tech, despite thousands of LED lights: no animated Pixar reindeer or 3-D Dreamworks holograms to be found. Songs we all know, played live on that gorgeous organ. Kids beaming with delight as tiny animated snowmen wave their tiny snowmen arms, snippets of the Nutcracker Suite filling the room.
Look, I get curmudgeonly around the holidays. Winter bums me out. It’s stressful and sad for me, a lot of the time. But then there are these bright moments, and — I don’t know. Something, just for a second there, felt pretty good about the universe.
I bought the earrings and made my way to the exit. A little girl in a green velvet dress with a white satin bow waved goodbye. “Goodbye, Christmas!” she whispered, not wanting her parents to move her towards the door. “Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye!”
I stepped onto the street and a man blatantly smoking weed outside the door was grinning, hollering at passersby, “Do you want my chicken? Do you want my chicken? YOU CAN’T HAVE MY MOTHERFUCKING CHICKEN!”
A disgruntled older man, touristy and overweight, leaned to his dour-looking wife and sighed, “I just can’t stand drunk people.”
It’s Christmastime in the city.