A few of us who are very old can remember what it was like when the Christmas holiday shopping and entertain-ment was concentrated in the urban “downtown” centers. Perhaps it was a more frenetic time before suburban shop-ping malls dispersed the population but there was also that sense of excitement generated by a trip to the center city which mega-malls and multi-plexes just don’t provide. That was how Christmas was celebrated back in 1915 Atlanta.
One hundred years ago, everyone, except for the very rich, who had their exclusive country clubs in the suburbs, came to Peachtree, Whitehall and Five Points during the holiday season. All the major, multi-story department and specialty stores were there, with huge sales from Thanksgiving through December. Many stories like Rich’s had their own Santa Claus for the first time in the early years of the twentieth century – strategically placed in the new large toy departments.
Electric trolleys criss-crossed the major streets so it was easy to get into town and hop on and off at the various stores. 1915 Atlantans thronged the local Nunnally stores around Five Points which offered a new line of French pastries and cakes to shoppers. Dahl’s and Jake Matthiessen’s Florists offered poinsettias [50 cents and up], cut flowers, potted plants, wreaths and mistletoe which could be delivered even on Christmas Day.
Although the stores closed on Dec. 25th, it was reported that a “veritable army” of people worked as tele-phone operators, policemen, restaurant and hotel staff, with hosts of men and boys delivering those flowers and gifts. The entire city’s proliferating theaters, whether the new silent movie houses or vaudeville, had special Christmas day matinees. The mega move hit of December 1915 was “Birth of a Nation” at the luxurious Atlanta Theater. Due to demand, this D. W. Griffiths spectacular’s stay had been extended two more weeks to end on Christmas Day.
Those seeking less hectic entertainment during Christmas week also had options. Most of the large churches had musical programs on the Saturday Christmas in 1915. The city’s great social clubs filled their ballrooms with dances, masquerade balls and banquets. It was a day for families but also a day to get out in the hustle and bustle of downtown Atlanta.