Christmas at Rich’s

Rich’s Department Store, 1949, Atlanta History Center collection.

Beginning in the late 1940s, visiting the Rich’s Department Store in downtown Atlanta during Christmas became a beloved holiday tradition in Georgia.

Rich’s first placed a Christmas tree on the roof of its downtown location in 1948. The tree stood seventy five feet tall on the store’s crystal bridge over Forsyth Street. The lighting of Rich’s Great Tree on Thanksgiving night became a celebrated (and later televised) event in the decades that followed.

In 1953, the store introduced its famous “Pink Pig.” This children’s train ride originally rose above the toy department and featured a Priscilla the Pig train car, but was later moved to the roof, where it circled the Great Tree. After the ride, each child was given a “I Rode The Pink Pig” sticker.

Priscilla the Pink Pig, c. 2003, New Georgia Encyclopedia.

Beginning in 1960, children could visit Santa’s Secret Shop on the fifth floor. The shop allowed them to pick out inexpensive gifts for their parents in secret, because adults were not allowed in. Visitors also frequented the store’s Magnolia Room restaurant, which was famous for its chicken salad and cheese straws.

The downtown Rich’s store closed in the early 1990s and the tree was temporarily relocated. Since 1999, Macy’s has held the Great Tree lighting ceremony on Thanksgiving night each year at their Lenox Square location in Buckhead. In 2003, the store introduced a new Priscilla the Pig, which continued to bring children joy during the holiday season. Macy’s retired the Pricilla the Pink Pig ride in 2021, ending a nearly a half-century of Georgia holiday tradition. To read more about the Rich’s Christmas experience, take a look at I Rode the Pink Pig: Atlanta’s Favorite Christmas Tradition, published by Hill Street Press with Rich’s-Macy’s in 2004. To see more historical images of Priscilla, you can visit the Digital Library of Georgia.


12 Replies to “Christmas at Rich’s”

  1. My husband’s grandparents always took him as a child in the late 50s and 60s to see Rich’s great tree. Once we got married which was in the 70s we would drive down and go underneath the bridge and look up to see the tree. It was magical! It’s sad things have to change over time but I guess that’s what makes memories become so special…they can’t ever be replicated so you hold on to them with everything you have to keep them alive forever. Lenox Square does have the tree lighting but its not the same everyone says. My 8 year old great niece gets to ride the pink pig at lenox every year and she loves it. At least the kids today can experience a little bit of what the older folks did back then. Thanks Richs for all the good memories.

  2. Thomas Fountain, that white – dressed soloist you spoke of was Ms. Beth Holley from Kirkwoid Baptist Church on Boulevard Drive in Kirkwood. She had a contralto voice. One year, when I was a teenager, our youth choir sang O Holy Night with Ms. Holley! It was very exciting to be singing on the top level of the Crystal Bridge!

  3. My father worked at rich’s department store and I can remember going to riches during Christmas and seeing santa, and then riding the pig and then when the secrets shop open I use to shop for my parents and sisters gift at Christmas, I think that with one of my favorite things to do at Christmas and I would sometimes have lunch with my dad At the Magnolia cafeteria, Lots of good memories but I cried when they included the Downtown department store in the 1990s

  4. Yes, Rich’s coconut cake was the best ever. After we moved from Georgia. I would have one shopped to wherever we were. Does anyone make those or have the recipe?

  5. As a child in the 40’s my mother and sister took e to Rich’s to see the Lone Ranger and Tonto, the real ones and he gave me a silver bullit. It would have been in the middle 40’s. Does anyone else remember or went to this event?

  6. I think I speak for everyone who lived in Atlanta during the heyday of Rich’s that Rich’s was Christmas.

    There was nothing more magical than the lighting ceremony of the Great Tree on Thanksgiving night: Christmas music filled the streets of downtown before the ceremony began, the colorful choir robes of the singers above us, the white dressed soloist of “O Holy Night,” the lights of the tree piercing the dark sky, and then everyone on Forsthe Street singing “Silent Night.”

    The weeks to follow seemed so long and slow but always a festive and memorable time thanks to Rich’s.
    The magic began outside in the store windows. My favorite windows were the golden bells of all shapes and sizes moving back and forth against the red velvet backdrop.
    I remember the first time riding the Pink Pig when the monorail traveled above the toy department. Years later the move to the roof top was most welcomed because we had a close-up view of that magnificent tree, the Christmas village below the monorail, eight live reindeer in queue to Santa’s throne where we not only gave Santa our Christmas wishes but also rewarded with a large green Christmas Tree shaped gumdrop.

    Then the there was the trip to The Secret Shop where I purchased simple, but loving, gifts for mom and dad.
    Last but not least, the taste of Rich’s coconut cake after Christmas dinner.

    Thank you, Rich’s for all the wonderful Christmas memories.

  7. When I was 2-10 years old I used to go to Rich’s down town store, and shopping with my parents and my grandmother,and sister,and brother to pick out stuff for Santa to bring to us, a
    nd give Santa Claus a List for him to bring to us, and after that we would ride the pink piggy and have a fun time.

  8. I’m sure that everyone who experienced this has wonderful memories! The imitation at Lenox is a travesty!

  9. I remember riding the Pink Pig when I was a child. It went over Toyland and was so magical. My grandmother worked at Rich’s so we would always shop there! I took my daughter to ride it the last time it was at Rich’s and I didn’t remember it being so small!!! That book is great too!

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