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Naper Settlement celebrates the holidays with new exhibit, Home for the Holidays: Christmas in the Fabulous 1950s

Oct 30, 2017 09:16AM

Naperville’s Santa Parade 1959. Photograph taken by the Naperville Sun, given to Naper Settlement’s collection.

Naperville, IL — Explore mid-century modern traditions and fun fads in Naper Settlement’s holiday-themed, post-World War II exhibit, Home for the Holidays: Christmas in the Fabulous 1950s. This temporary exhibit highlights a time when the U.S. government began tracking Santa Claus’ sleigh via radar, aluminum trees were the latest trend, and Napervillians started to enthusiastically adorn their homes with plastic decorations. The Home for the Holidays: Christmas in the Fabulous 1950s exhibition will be on view from Nov. 14 to Dec. 24 and will be open during winter museum hours. Admission during Christkindlmarket is free. Underwritten by Ronald & Claudia Stenger. Visit www.NaperSettlement.org or call (630) 420-6010 for more information.

“Working with our community to develop exhibits is the wave of the future for museums – these partnerships, relationships and collaborations is our mantra for creating our in-house experiences,” said Naper Settlement’s Director of Innovation and Experience, Lance Tawzer. “We are so fortunate to have such wonderful partners putting this exhibit together – our staff feeds off of the enthusiasm that is generated by people like Gary and Ginger Fry who are very passionate about collecting the history of Christmas. Patrons will see the amount of care for this subject in the meticulous nature of the arrangement of artifacts and materials.”

After overcoming the Great Depression and World War II, Americans experienced an economic boom which transformed the way they celebrated the holidays. Displays, stories and antique items will give visitors an insight into what the holidays were like during the “baby boom,” and how the focus shifted to children, due to an increase in income and the ensuing abundance of toys.

In Naperville, the biggest promotion of the decade took place on November 28, 1959 when downtown merchants and the Naperville Sun newspaper sponsored a Santa parade, followed by a free children’s matinee of cartoons at the Naper Theatre while parents shopped. In addition to Santa Claus, the parade featured horses, bands and vintage cars, but the most unusual parade entry was the 41-foot-long Nike Hercules nuclear missile from the U.S. Army installation in Naperville.

Designed to knock out weapons launched by Soviet bombers, these missiles were located in various sites across the United States, which included Naperville. Curator of Exhibits & Interpretation, Jennifer Bridge, who had come across the image when researching, was initially caught off guard, but in the context of the Cold War said she “wasn’t surprised.” A photograph of the missile will be on display, as well as many other photos of the parade. 

Throughout the exhibit, visitors will learn about Marshall Field’s beloved holiday display windows and their characters, Uncle Mistletoe and Aunt Holly, and how Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer grew in popularity. The Naperville Jaycees’ annual holiday lighting contest will also be explored, where 21 homeowners entered in its first year.

The exhibit will have toys, Christmas cards, children’s books and popular music on display, loaned from members of The Golden Glow of Christmas Past, a non-profit organization focusing on the education and history of antique and vintage Christmas items.

Gary and Ginger Fry, Naperville residents and members of the Golden Glow of Christmas Past, have loaned their favorite Christmas books, a variety of stockings, and helped to recreate a typical 1950s living room with their stainless steel Christmas tree and revolving color wheel.“Our fifties room and silver tree will provide a backdrop for your own family photo,” said Ginger Fry. “Adults can take a stroll down memory lane and reminisce with their children or grandchildren about Christmas in the fantastic fifties.” 

Naper Settlement will transform into a winter wonderland this season. Visitors can purchase an annual souvenir mug to be filled with hot cider at the Naper Settlement booth while experiencing the warm atmosphere of Christkindlmarket Naperville. We invite everyone to enjoy the many other family-friendly programs offered this season, like Santa @ The Settlement, Victorian Holiday Traditions, History Speaks Lecture Series: An Old-Fashioned Christmas, and don’t miss the Rotary Club of Naperville Sunrise’s Naper Lights. To learn more about these programs, visit our website www.NaperSettlement.org/holiday.

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