If you were a kid during the 25-year reign of this local holiday icon, you didn't need visions of sugarplums to herald the Christmas season. From 1957 to 1982, you had the man himself – Santa, that is – right there in the Garden State Plaza parking lot to mark all the merriment.
Dressed as if he stepped out of the Clement C. Moore poem (droll mouth, snowy beard, cherry nose, pipe and a sack full of toys), this oversized Santa also stepped out of a 25-foot-high chimney. With a red-mittened hand raised in a perpetual greeting, he was a beloved Bergen fixture of the holiday season.
Garden State Plaza, meanwhile, was an outdoor plaza at the time, where holiday shopping meant bundling up for the brisk walk from store to store. The towering Santa presided over all of it – the stores, the plaza and the people.
Carol Rahill, now mother to three grown daughters, was one of the people who grew up with the tradition.
"I remember Santa making his debut early in December," she says. "The plaza was open then with stores separated by outdoor walkways. He, of course, welcomed the season to the shoppers, but reminded all of us who drove by that winter was here! He was elevated so the routes 4 and 17 cloverleaf travelers had a birds' eye view (even those of us who occasionally made the long drive from Mahwah)."
It took two full days to assemble Santa's 25 pre-fabricated pieces, which were then lowered by crane onto the chimney. Dismantling was just as difficult, not to mention discouraging to children who passed by during the process.
The Santa installation was an expensive endeavor, and when Garden State Plaza transformed to an enclosed mall, the beloved fixture was no longer a part of the plan.
But for those of us who were there, visions of Santa climbing out of his gargantuan chimney remain – if only as fond memories.
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