Matthew Taft recalled the recent Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City. As the organ shop coordinator at the Center City-based store, one of Taft’s many duties involves behind-the-scenes work at the annual parade.
“I had the opportunity to take a few minutes and FaceTime my mom while I was at the parade and she said she was so proud of me and that just brought tears to my eyes,” the 28-year-old said. “There’s people who have been out for a couple of hours excited to see the parade and it was an amazing feeling to be part of something you saw as a young person on TV and you know that millions of people see this. What a fantastic opportunity it is to be there and help make it happen. It is beyond my wildest dreams.”
Taft, who is gay, serves as the point-person for several Macy’s holiday initiatives in the historic Wanamaker building, where the store is located. This includes Dickens Christmas Village and the Christmas Light Show.
Dickens Christmas Village is open through New Year’s Eve. Taft said up to 1,000 people an hour walk through the village, which features animatronic figures telling the story of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”
Throughout PGN’s interview, Taft smiled and laughed as he described aspects of his job and the overall Macy’s atmosphere. He approached the end of Dickens’ Christmas Village where the main character, Ebenezer Scrooge, woke up on Christmas morning after three ghosts visited him.
DICKENS CHRISTMAS VILLAGE AT MACY’S Photo: Courtesy of Macy’s, Inc.
“He’s a new man,” Taft smiled. “He’s learned the true meaning of Christmas.”
Taft continued this positive outlook at the end of the tour, where attendees can take a photo with Santa Claus.
“Santa is only here until the 24th of December because he’s got a lot of work to do on the 25th and then he goes back to the North Pole.”
That Christmas magic is what Taft enjoys most about his job.
“Before this interview, I was upstairs working on my computer and I heard ‘jingle-jingle-jingle,’” he said with a laugh. “And it was Santa coming up the steps to use the restroom and I thought, What a marvelous job I have.”
While Taft may not get visits from Santa Claus all year, he still keeps busy by working at the Wanamaker Grand Court Organ. He coordinates efforts to maintain the organ and ensures each pipe plays the proper note.
“There are almost 29,000 individual notes in this instrument and each one of them has their own mechanical contraption to make that work,” Taft said. “It’s a lot of maintenance and our goal, on the restoration side, is to not just chase down the little problems here and there as they pop up but to do preventative maintenance. We’ll restore an entire division of the pipe organ so we won’t have to access it, in theory, for a long time.”
Throughout the year, Macy’s also hosts after-hours concerts and other ticketed events. Taft said June is “a very big time” for the pipe organ, with the annual Wanamaker Organ Day, an event featuring several concerts. He also begins working on holiday-themed attractions around this time.
One highlight of the holiday festivities is the Christmas Light Show.
“There are several generations of families that come here and it’s great-grandparents, grandparents, parents and their kids,” Taft said. “It’s amazing to see that. It’s people who have been doing this for 60 years and people who are just starting this as their tradition.”
MACY’S CHRISTMAS LIGHT SHOW Photo: Olivia Brosky
While there were few visitors at Macy’s during the Monday afternoon PGN visited late last month, Taft said it can get crowded on the weekends. He noted ideal viewing for the show is typically Monday-Thursday; the Friends & Family sale, which is going on through Dec. 11, is an ideal time to shop and enjoy the holiday celebrations at Macy’s, he added.
“If you get in during the week, it’s a great time to see the show, go through Dickens Village and do some shopping.”
When it came to the topic of shopping, Taft noted one of his favorite sections of the store: Home.
“Right here on the third floor, on the opposite end of Dickens Village, is every kitchen appliance you would ever need,” he said with another smile. “It is my guilty pleasure going through there and I’m kind of glad the organ shop entrance is on the other end because I would spend so much money. There’s the Martha Stewart Collection, the cookware, the bedding — so many amazing things.”
In addition to shopping, Taft said he enjoys the many opportunities afforded by the sheer size of the Wanamaker building.
“I walk into the building and I am here all day — sometimes 14 hours — but there are so many different experiences in one building that you can spend 14 hours here and not have backtracked.”
Taft will be backtracking his own steps beginning on the first day of 2018. Once the last light show ends and Dickens Christmas Village closes on New Year’s Eve, Taft will work with store management to ensure the holiday-themed events 11 months later will run smoothly.
However, he’s more focused on the positive impact these events have on others. In particular, he recalled when Macy’s received help from a local 10-year-old boy in launching last year’s Christmas Light Show.
“The light show is his best friend,” he said. “He watches it all year on his iPad.”
The boy’s aunt wrote a letter to Macy’s management asking if her nephew could meet the team and watch them build the lights. The Macy’s team brought the boy, who is on the autism spectrum, into the store and had him launch the light show.
“He just lit up like a Christmas tree,” Taft said. “He talks with people about his experience and now he reads chapter books to the kindergarten class. It was this amazing, magical connection with the Christmas holidays in Macy’s and people from the community.”
Macy’s leadership invited him back to launch the show again this season. Taft said the experience was “heart-melting” to witness.
“It was an amazing sense of fulfillment to have such a human connection with someone that I never met before [and] to be part of their lives and history in such a remarkable way — with something as simple as inviting them to be here and engaging with them for a few minutes. It still makes me glow on the inside.”
During one of the six light shows scheduled the day of PGN’s visit, Taft watched the Christmas tree and numerous characters light up in front of the pipe organ as actor Julie Andrews’ recorded voice narrated the story. However, he focused more on the people viewing the show.
“I love to watch the people watching the show and it’s amazing to see the happiness on their faces. It’s 12 minutes long but it means so much to so many people. It’s pretty amazing spreading that holiday cheer.”
Visit http://www.wanamakerorgan.com/xmas.php#dickens or more information on the Macy’s Christmas Light Show and Dickens Christmas Village.