The stories behind some of KC’s Most Treasured Christmas Traditions
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, and for Kansas City that means princesses, crowns and thousands of lights adorning landmarks.
Who Needs Santa? The Fairy Princess Gives Presents!
In 1935, Kline’s Department Store of downtown Kansas City was preparing to celebrate the grand opening of their Toyland. Santa came to other stores. Kline’s wanted to do something original to attract visitors, so they introduced the Fairy Princess. For 25 cents, children visited the princess, telling her their Christmas wishes. Then she waved her magic wand and a surprise gift would appear! Over the years, gifts were presented sliding from chutes, appearing on revolving turntables or hiding in fairyland trees or magically opening trunks. The tradition continued, at just 25 cents, until Kline’s closed in 1970.
The Fairy Princess returned in 1987 when the Kansas City Museum brought her back for Christmas. You can visit the Princess Pavilion for a photo, princess activities and, of course, a magically presented gift for every child. You can call on the Fairy Princess on weekends in December.
Greeting Cards, Shiny Paper and Special Ornaments
Can you imagine a tree without shimmering wrapped packages and special ornaments? Or Christmas without cards’ arriving in the mail? These traditions are celebrated around the world, and they originated in Kansas City.
In 1910, 18-year-old J.C. Hall came to Kansas City selling postcards out of two shoeboxes (yes, that’s the secret behind the name of the “Shoebox” card line). His brother, Rollie, joined him, and they founded Hall Brothers, a stationery company. In wartime 1915, Americans desired privacy, so they began to use cards in envelopes instead of postcards. The Halls joined the trend, selling greeting cards in time for Christmas.
In 1917, when the company ran out of solid paper for gift wrap, they began to sell decorated French envelope linings. This inspired J.C.’s invention of modern wrapping paper, and the company began designing and manufacturing gift wrap. In 1928, they changed the name to Hallmark and took the lead nationally in Christmas card sales, a position held ever since.
You can watch as cards are manufactured, enjoy the magic of Halls’ Christmas trees and create your own wrapping paper, cards and decorations for FREE! Take your family to the Hallmark Visitor's Center. It is decorated for the holidays all month, and each visitor receives a special gift. Then, go next door to Kaleidoscope, a hands-on art center for children. Afterward, spend time enjoying the decor and shopping at Crown Center.
A Nighttime Fairyland
Starting in September, workers begin installing thousands of lights. Then, in the middle of the night before Thanksgiving, the lights are secretly tested to ensure every bulb is bright. On Thanksgiving night, the magic begins as Kansas City’s “Nighttime Fairyland,” as it was known in the 1930s, comes to life!
Kansas City’s landmark Country Club Plaza, opened in 1922, is perhaps most famous for its Christmas lights. The tradition began on Christmas Day 1925 when Charles Pitrat, the maintenance supervisor for the Nichols Company, decorated the Mill Creek Building with a single strand of lights and a few small trees. Every year Pitrat added to the display, and now the Plaza boasts more than 80 miles of lights. Celebrities including Harry Truman, George Brett, Disney characters, local mayors and even American Idol winner David Cook have flipped the switch after the countdown that leads to the Plaza lighting and a fireworks display over Brush Creek. You can enjoy the Country Club Plaza Christmas lights every evening Thanksgiving through mid-January.
Kansas City’s Crowning Glory
Kansas City is home to the Monarchs, the Royals, the American Royal and Crown Center, so it seemed a perfect choice to decorate downtown with gigantic lighted crowns at Christmas! The crowns were part of the holidays from the 1960s through the 1980s. When Zona Rosa opened as a new shopping district, they chose to restore the tradition, hiring the same family-owned company that designed the original crowns to craft new 17-foot-wide, 2,000-pound bejeweled crowns based on original blueprints. The ornate golden crowns accompany a 14-foot wreath and 50-foot Christmas tree for the Northern Lights at Zona Rosa. You may see the Zona Rosa Christmas lights every evening Nov. 19 through mid-January.