The holidays are a big deal in Fort Wayne, and we start our celebrations early at the annual Night of Lights celebration on Wednesday, November 23, Thanksgiving eve!
The current Night of Lights tradition is nothing new, though! Fort Wayne’s love of the holidays goes way back to the Wolf & Dessauer Department Store. Yes, a department store!
History of Wolf & Dessauer Holiday Traditions
Beginning in 1928, the Wolf and Dessauer Department Store displayed holiday animated windows that were revealed every Thanksgiving. According to Jim and Kathie Barron, authors of Wolf and Dessauer: Where Fort Wayne Shopped, “any given year, you would see Santa feeding his reindeer, ice skating raccoons and elves jumping ropes” (Barron, p. 64) Each and every year, and season the window displays would be redecorated revealing the latest advertisement themes to customers.
The window displays drew people far and wide, and “as far away as fifty miles” (Barron, p. 69). But, that was not good enough, in 1937 the Wolf and Dessauer Santa and His Reindeer and Merry Christmas Wreaths were introduced to the holiday window display reveals in November! Made of plywood and more than forty thousand lights, and displayed at the corner of Calhoun and Washington. These displays could have rivaled the displays in larger cities like New York and Chicago (pp. 69-71)! That’s a big deal!
Holiday Tradition in the 21st Century
Get a taste of the bygone era, and enjoy the restored Santa and His Reindeer and the Merry Christmas Wreath at the crowd favorite event, Night of Lights!
Although the displays do not appear side-by-side on the corner of Calhoun and Washington, visitors and residents flock to Main Street to enjoy the lighting of Santa and His Reindeer on the side of the PNC building, and the corner of Calhoun and Wayne to enjoy the lighting of the Merry Christmas Wreath on the side of the I&M building.
Plus, the Night of Lights has stepped up a notch with many other holiday display lightings, and the new tradition, based on the past Wolf and Dessauer window displays, of the Holiday Window Display contest. This year the contest theme is “Joy to the World.”
Night of Lights Events
5:30 pm – History Center Turret Lighting (Barr Street)
5:45 pm – Christ Child Festival Nativity (Ross Building on Main Street)
5:50 pm – Aunt Millie’s Northern Lights (Pearl Street)
5:55 pm – Community Center Santa’s Workshop display (Main Street)
6:20 pm – Santa and His Reindeer at PNC (Main & Berry Streets)
7:00 pm – Wells Fargo Holiday Display & Indiana Michigan Power Merry Christmas Wreath (I&M Power Center Plaza)
7:15 pm – Botanical Conservatory & Embassy Theatre Window Display (Jefferson Blvd)
7:30 pm – Ringing of the Bells (ACPL and Downtown Churches)
7:45 pm – Fireworks at Parkview Field (Jefferson Blvd)
Will you be joining the fun and helping Fort Wayne count down the lighting of many holiday displays?
After the Night of Lights, don’t forget to enjoy many of the HolidayFest activities and festivals like the Botanical Conservatory’s Twelve Days of Christmas exhibit, the History Center’s Festival of Gingerbread, or the Embassy Theatre’s Festival of Trees!
*Barron, Jim and Kathie, Wolf and Dessauer: Where Fort Wayne Shopped. The History Press, 2011.
*Fort Wayne Historical Society, The Wolf & Dessauer Shopping Experience. The History Center. http://www.fwhistorycenter.com/vex4/index.htm. 2 Nov. 2016.