Cleveland has always had a rich history of celebrating the holiday season. However, when people first settled in the Western Reserve, the holidays were celebrated differently. Until the mid-19th century, the December holidays were largely eclipsed by Thanksgiving celebrations, popular in Ohio in spite of the fact that Thanksgiving was not yet recognized as a national holiday. It was not until the 1850s that holiday celebrations began to break into the city’s mainstream culture, with the first Christmas tree in Cleveland lit at Zion Lutheran Church on York Street in 1851.
Holiday shopping grew in popularity shortly thereafter, but it truly reached its heyday in the early 20th century with the establishment of beloved department stores such as Halle Brothers, Higbee’s, and the May Company. By the 1950s and 60s, these stores became a holiday destination for Clevelanders, who were dazzled by the stores’ festive window displays and beloved characters such as Mr. Jingeling.
As the city has grown, its holiday celebrations have evolved along with it, as Clevelanders carry the traditions of past generations into the modern era. From the tree lighting at Public Square, to the Christmas Story House, to Nela Park’s extravaganza of lighted decorations, the holiday season is unmistakable in Cleveland, carrying with it a history as distinctive and diverse as the city itself.
To learn more about holiday traditions in Cleveland, be sure to stop by the Cleveland History Center during the 2017 holiday season. Start with peek at artifacts representing Cleveland’s cultural traditions in the new Cleveland Starts Here® exhibit sponsored by the Jack, Joseph, and Morton Mandel Foundation. Enjoy holiday décor and winter vignettes complete with fashions from the WRHS Costume Collection and Chisholm Halle Costume Wing in the Bingham-Hanna and Hay-McKinney Mansions, as well as the Crawford Auto Aviation Museum.