Cleveland holiday traditions that, sadly, are no more

Posted at 11:10 AM, Dec 16, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-16 11:10:34-05

CLEVELAND — The holiday season in Cleveland brings with it experiences and traditions unique to our area. While there are plenty of fun things to do this holiday season, we can’t help but think how great it would be if these traditions returned to Cleveland.

The Sterling-Lindner-Davis tree

The massive Christmas tree annually displayed at the Sterling-Lindor Davis department store on East 13th Street and Euclid Avenue for 50 years was a must-see. The lavish tree was decorated with thousands of ornaments each year. An estimated 500,000 people came to see the tree each year, according to the Cleveland Memory Project.

View of Sterling-Lindner-Davis christmas tree from the lobby floor
View of Sterling-Lindner-Davis christmas tree from the lobby floor in 1966.

2. Animated storefront windows

Was there anything more Christmas than walking past the storefront windows and seeing the festive animatronics in front of all the department stores? Whether your go-to was Halle’s, Sterling-Lindner, May Company or Higbee’s, you were bound to have a favorite display each year. The classic window displays are still replicated at JACK Casino, but nothing beats the original.

3. The Zmija family holiday light display

There are plenty of incredible light displays to see in Cleveland, but going to see the Zmija family’s lights was a special way to spend a night during the holidays. Located in Cuyahoga Heights, the Christmas display featured around 80,000 lights and included a Ferris wheel, angel with moving wings and a merry-go-round. It cost nearly $20,000 each year to assemble and run. The Zmija’s display was one of the largest in the Cleveland area for 24 years.

4. Meeting Mr. Jingeling

Mr. Jingeling, the keeper of Santa’s keys, could be found as Santa’s helper on the seventh floor of the downtown Halle's department store on Euclid Avenue in Cleveland. The original actor to play Mr. Jingeling was Max Ellis for about a decade before being taken over by Earl Keyes, an original employee of WEWS, when the station went on air in December 1947. Beginning in 1965, he made TV appearance as Mr. Jingeling and in personal appearances until his death in 2000.

Earl Keyes as Mr. Jingeling on News 5 in 1995.

5. Holidays at Higbee’s

Higbee’s was the first department store in the greater Cleveland area. The building was the anchor for Public Square from 1931 until it closed in 2002. People across Northeast Ohio would flock to the department store to do their holiday shopping, greeted by the festive window displays and decorations that continued through the store. Higbee’s was home to the Twigbee Shop, Breakfast with Santa at the Silver Grille and, of course, Bruce the Spruce, a festive talking Christmas tree you can still visit at Tower City.

If you have a holiday tradition you miss in Cleveland that didn't make this list, email us at