Vintage holiday photos of San Antonio Christmas — Including Joske's and the Alamo Plaza tree 

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The holiday season has always been a big deal in San Antonio.

The annual lighting of the Christmas tree in Alamo Plaza dates back at least to 1914, according to historical reports, and before the River Walk became the brightly illuminated holiday spectacle it is today, the downtown thoroughfare of Houston Street was place to go gawk at twinkling lights.

Many longtime residents also remember when Joske's Department Store, a downtown shopping oasis once billed as the state's biggest retail store, would transform its entire fourth floor into a holiday-themed "Fantasyland."

Here's a look at how San Antonians celebrated during those bygone days.

Photos courtesy of UTSA Libraries Digital Collections.
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Anyone who was in San Antonio in the '60s surely remembers Fantasyland at Joske's.
Sometimes you don't realize just how big Christmas decorations can be! Here, Margarett Salinas poses with one of the decorations destined to be hung downtown for the 1947 holiday season.
Ca. 1940 - Christmas at La Villita entrance gate at Villta Street and S. Presa.
While this photo is undated, you can see the city's official Christmas tree on display in Alamo Plaza.
Maria Moreno was photographed carrying armloads of corn shucks by the San Antonio Light in 1948. No doubt preparing for an epic tamalada!
In this 1950 photograph, you can see the Christmas lights hung on the Gibbs building. Note the Christmas tree, from the city's Rotary Club, set up behind the Alamo Cenotaph.
Downtown San Antonio was plenty festive with subtle decorations along the city streets.
Wouldn't it be so charming to see this decor around downtown today? Here's the outside of the Aztec.
Joske's didn't play around with its holiday decorations. Just take this giant Santa Claus display as proof.
Joske's really didn't mess around when it came to Christmas. This Encoupe airplane had to be hoisted through a fourth floor window to get it into the store.
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According to the UTSA Digital Archives, the airplane was displayed as a Christmas sales item.
This "Nacimiento" display at the Institute of Texan Cultures shows the Mexican nativity scene. It was visible to visitors in December 1972.
Rudolph Gras decorates a 50 year old cedar tree near the zoo for the holiday season. The best part? He planted the tree himself in 1917.
This late 1930s photo shows the Rotarian Christmas tree in front of Municipal Auditorium.
Little ones surely loved looking at all the themed displays.
This was truly a winter wonderland.
This looks so magical.
At the SA Fire Station No. 12 in 1938, this presumed firefighter can be seen constructing a display to draw in visitors.
Finck Cigar employees and their families pose for a photo at the company's 1936 Christmas shindig.
This photo from the early 1950's shows the First Baptist Church choir performing in the chapel decorated for the Christmas season.
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The tamaladas back in the '50s must have been poppin'. Here you can see meat counter workers at La Gloria Food Market.
These children gave Santa a helping hand by making Christmas toys in 1939.
The Texas Top Hands and Santa Claus provided the entertainment for the annual Newsboys' Christmas Dinner in Crystal Ballroom of the Gunter Hotel in 1948.
Turns out Santa Claus can rock out on the drums, too!
Santa made the rounds at the Newsboys' Christmas Dinner, probably finding out just what everyone wanted to find under the tree on Christmas morning!
Santa didn't always have access to his reindeer — he had to take the escalator at the National Bank of Commerce in 1965.
There's nothing like a Christmas pageant to get you in the holiday spirit. The 1965 St. David's Episcopal Church ballet and pantomime Christmas pageant featured Nancy Smith (left) as Mary and Kay Coleman as Angel Gabriel.
These angels also starred in the 1965 St. David's Episcopal Church Christmas pageant, which was written and directed by Jeannie Grey.
Shirley Ann George showed off her missing two front teeth — just like the song! — for the San Antonio Light in 1948. According to the paper, she was '"practicing the song for Santa Claus' visit."
The cast of the UTSA Child Care Resource Center Christmas Play mugs for the camera in 1977.
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Dec 23, 1936 - 79 years ago today in the San Antonio Light. Photo shows A. G. Sherrer, 1235 Highland Blvd., with elaborate Christmas scene he constructed in his home for his son Jerry. Three electric trains and a complete station help make up this scene.(UTSA Special Collection)
A toddler stands on a shelf at Kelly Field's Toyland in 1948.
In this photo from the late 1940s, you can see Rev. Joseph P. Sammon of St. Mary's Catholic Church blessing the candles, with the assistance of two altar bars, in a ceremony known as "Candlemas." The event marked the end of the Christmas religious season for the church.
SA has been about giving back for a long time. In this 1939 photo, you can see little kids helping Santa make toys at the recreation center at Woodlawn Park. How adorable, right?!
While the days of toys filling window displays may be long gone, you can peep this 1939 photo to relive that era. Here you can see two shoe shine boys (hello, child labor) getting excited about these toys.
In the 500 block of Fredericksburg Road, there was a lot where you could get your own Christmas tree. Here you can see Richard Mendoza picking his tree. Hopefully he got a good deal.
Here you can see Madge Brown holding up an oversized Christmas card in 1939. It was sent to the San Antonio Board of Education from students and faculty of Tech High School. Aww!
Fire Capt. E.R. Kleid poses with a toy drive sign. Children who brought a toy to donate to the drive could ride the train or a pony at Miller Park on Broadway.
C.J. Long spray-paints a papier-mache intended for use in Christmas displays in department stores around the country.
Earl Abel's had a tradition of taking a group photo of the restaurant's employees at its 4210 Broadway location on the day of the annual Christmas party. In this 1970 photo, owner Earl Abel is standing third from the left.
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These women worked making stuffed toys to send to British children as part of the British War Relief Society Sewing Project during World War II.
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Anyone who was in San Antonio in the '60s surely remembers Fantasyland at Joske's.

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