Downtown Sioux City was the place to be at Christmastime during the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s.

Elaborate lighting displays set the bustling streets aglow.

Prancing reindeer, dancing elves and waving Santas decorated Younker-Davidsons and Younkers-Martin department store windows, which could rival any of those seen at Macy's in New York City.

Grace Linden, curator of history for the Sioux City Public Museum Research Center and Archives said it was a big deal for children when Santa came to town.

She recalled her mother setting her younger brother on the big jolly man's lap at Younker-Davidsons.

"He just screamed and cried so bad. I don't think he ever got over it," she said.

A photograph taken by former Sioux City Journal photographer George Newman in 1945, shows thousands of people milling around in the street outside of the Younker-Davidsons store. Santa and his wagon pulled by animals is barely visible in the massive crowd.

"They didn't have a mall, so there wouldn't be any place like that to see Christmas," Linden said. "This was where you shopped, so you might as well be seeing something pretty."

Newman's photographic negatives, which were donated to the museum in 1997, glass bulb ornaments from the 1920s, a folder of newspaper clippings and an inflatable Santa that rises from a chimney are reminders of Christmases past.

Although Sioux City still lights its downtown and holds a holiday parade complete with floats, Santa and fireworks, the event pales in comparison to the Christmas festivities that took place decades ago.

According to a Nov. 19, 1964, Sioux City Journal article, some 50,000 people packed the streets of downtown Sioux City for a Thanksgiving parade.

The parade, equipped with 35 balloon figures including the Three Little Pigs and a 125-foot Chinese dragon, started at Fourth and Wall streets, moved down Fourth Street to Pearl Street and turned up to Sixth Street. It ended 2.5 miles later at the Municipal Auditorium, according to the article.

The Yule Lights was the largest lighting display in the Central Northwest, according to a Sioux City Journal story from Nov. 13, 1961.

An article published on Nov. 15, 1966, said it took two weeks to string the lights downtown and check wiring and bulbs. The estimated cost of the lighting spectacle: $10,000 per season. The Greater Siouxland Merchandising Council footed the bill.

Santa initially threw the switch and lit up the city, but the task was later assumed by city officials.

During the lighting ceremony outside of the old Municipal Auditorium, the Children's Choir of the Salvation Army sang carols as a crowd of 5,300 patiently awaited Santa's arrival in a helicopter. Unfortunately Santa had to find alternative transportation - a firetruck. He distributed 10,000 pieces of candy to boys and girls.

Dave Levin, Chairman of the holiday promotion committee, called it the "greatest reception" Santa had ever had.

What did children hope Santa would place under their trees?

Linden said dolls were popular gifts for girls, while boys received sports balls, cars and trucks.

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Health and Lifestyles reporter

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