Deanie's Readies for season with kids Holiday program, French Quarter Holiday display, photos with Santa
If you walk by Deanie’s Seafood Restaurant in the French Quarter this time of year, you might feel like you’ve stepped into “Miracle on 34th Street.” While the inside of the restaurant is decked out in ribbons, poinsettias, Christmas trees and garland,its French Quarter holiday display windows delight walkers-by with festive holiday scenes along Dauphine Street.
With occasional visits from Santa to share hot cocoa and free photos with children and a special Holiday Kids Program with Vince Vance, Deanie's is a favorite destination to celebrate Christmas in New Orleans.
In December 2001, Deanie’s took over the first floor of the former D.H. Holmes Department Store Annex to open its second location at the corner of Dauphine and Iberville streets. D.H. Holmes, now the Hyatt French Quarter, first opened the doors to its Canal Street store in 1849 and became a New Orleans landmark, later immortilized in “The Confederacy of Dunces.” During its nearly 150-year history, D.H. Holmes was the anchor of what was the most fashionable retail district in the South. According to the Department Store Museum, “For many generations of New Orleanians, it became a favorite place to shop; its restaurant, a favorite place to have lunch; its Christmas display a must-see during the holidays.” An expansion in 1969 added the annex building on Iberville, which housed a parking garage, retail space for young men’s clothing, fabrics and a sewing center, and a new French Quarter cafeteria, which is Deanie’s Seafood today.
Deanie's French Quarter Holiday Display recognized
Beginning in 2002, Deanie’s restarted a tradition by showcasing festive holiday displays in five department store display windows that were installed soon after opening. At Mardi Gras, the window boxes are festooned in beautiful Mardi Gras costumes; at Easter, Easter bunnies and Easter eggs take over; and for Halloween, a showcase of witches brews, spider webs and pumpkins.
All the stops come out for Christmas, when Deanie's unveils whimsical window displays reminiscent of the department store displays of your childhood. For the third year, Deanie’s will host a family friendly holiday program that features Christmas caroling, breakfast with Santa, and an interactive performance during the Vince Vance Kids Holiday Sing-along & Dance Party.
DEANIE’S HOLIDAY DISPLAYS 50 YEARS IN THE MAKING
Barbara Chifici, proprietor of Deanie’s Seafood for 33 years, has always loved Christmas. Soon after her marriage at the age of 19, Mrs. Barbara began her collection by making Christmas decorations for her home. “It started years ago when I got married. I was real crafty and started making things,” she said. “Then, whenever I could, I would buy something.”
Her collection has grown over the past 52 years. She would find decorations during her travels, shopping in local stores, and eventually, online. Sometimes, a friend would say, “I don’t want this anymore, maybe you could find some use for it.” She said the displays didn’t become elaborate until years after she had started collecting.
Inspired by Maison Blanche, D.H. Holmes holiday displays
But as her collection grew, so did her vision. “I liked to go see the other people who used to decorate, like the (former) Maison Blanche Department Store, D.H. Holmes, and the Centanni Family on Canal Street,” she said. “I always dreamed of having an elaborate display like that. I started to put whatever I had out at my home, and each year I put out more and more.”
She stepped into the big time around the time she moved to her former home in Kenner in 1984. The dining room and living room, visible from the street, were fully decorated and lit up. The lawn was festooned with Candy Cane Lanes and Santa’s workshop. “I can remember my old house, we used to put a teeter totter on the front lawn with Christmas characters on it. Another year, I decorated a whole mimosa tree. We climbed up and put red poinsettas in all the branches and made it look like one giant poinsettia,” she said. “We had a merry-go-round one year full of Christmas characters. It was always different.”
Eventually, she had plexi glass installed on her two-car garage and a portable wall built for a backdrop and converted the garage into a winter wonderland. An animatronic Santa and Mrs. Claus in their kitchen would amuse passersby as Mrs. Claus baked cookies and a voice-activated Santa asked, “What’s your name? Have you been good this year? What would you like Santa to bring you?”
People came by in droves to see the holiday display, including one customer who saw Mrs. Barbara in Deanie’s a few weeks ago and asked her if she was the woman with the decorated house. “He told me, ‘I used to take my family around to see all the decorations around town each year, and we always saved your house for last.’”
Now, just before Thanksgiving weekend, Shane Scallen, a Deanie’s employee for over 10 years, starts pulling out Christmas trees, lights, and boxes and boxes of decorations to begin transitioning Deanie’s into a cheerful Christmas card. Located a block off of Canal Street at the corner of Dauphine and Iberville streets, Deanie’s adds a dose of holiday spirit to the French Quarter. The restaurant twice has been recognized for the best holiday decorations by the Vieux Carre Commission.
The display windows highlight familiar Christmas themes: Santa’s workshop, elves decorating a tree, Santa and Mrs. Claus in a winter wonderland, a gathering of holiday characters and a traditional life-size creche.
Mrs. Barbara says she has enough decorations in storage to decorate at least another five windows. “It makes you feel good when other people enjoy it,” she said.
And, as with every tradition, Mrs. Barbara is passing down her love of holiday decorating to the next generation. For the past 20 years, she has bought a decorative piece for each of her six granddaughters every holiday since they were born, beginning with Erica, who is turning 21. “Not the boys, though,” she said of her five grandsons, “the boys aren’t sentimental.”
If you're feeling sentimental and in the Christmas spirit, come by Deanie’s in the French Quarter, 841 Iberville St., to enjoy some holiday cheer. Whether you enjoy a sip of cocoa and photo with Santa, share a fried seafood platter or a dozen charbroiled oysters with friends, join in the caroling and jolly dance party during the Vince Vance Kids Holiday program, or just stroll past and peek at a New Orleans native’s dream come true, Deanie’s welcomes you and wishes you a very Merry Christmas!