Like so many Min­ne­so­ta fami­lies, the Ped­er­son fam­i­ly of Bloom­ing­ton made an annu­al pre-Christ­mas pil­grim­age to the down­town Min­ne­ap­olis Day­ton's (later, Macy's) to see San­ta, shop and share a meal at the stal­wart Oak Grill.

Lesley Ernst, one of six Ped­er­son sib­lings who shared in the de­cades-long tra­di­tion, re­called four gen­era­tions of her family tour­ing the magi­cal eighth-floor hol­i­day dio­ra­mas that brought folk­lore and fairy ta­les to life.

"I went to every sin­gle one since they start­ed," she said, from pe­rus­ing "San­ta's Enchant­ed Forest" as a girl in 1963, to wheel­ing a grand­daugh­ter's stroller through the final "A Day in the Life of an Elf" in 2016.

Ernst was heart­bro­ken to learn that Macy's was closing its downtown store in 2017.

"On the very last day they were open, I went down there one last time just to go through the store and rem­i­nisce," she said. When she told her sis­ter, Jill Ped­er­son, that she was head­ed to the going-out-of-busi­ness sale, Ped­er­son jok­ing­ly said, "If you find one of those elves for $20, buy it for me."

Pederson didn't know what she was in for.

When Ernst ar­rived at Macy's, only one floor of mer­chan­dise re­mained.

"I walked in and the first thing I saw was these bunk beds with elves in them," she re­called.

A Christ­mas mira­cle! Then, she looked at the tag: $900. She looked again. The original prices had been dras­ti­cal­ly marked down.

"I found a clerk and said, 'What does this $30 pay for?' " Ernst re­mem­bered. "And he said, 'The whole bed with both the elves and the motor,' and I said, 'I'll take it.' "

The store was clos­ing in a mat­ter of hours, so Ernst hast­i­ly dis­as­sem­bled the bed and crammed it and the elves into her Cam­ry. Then, she drove to her sister's home in Rush City, Minn., where the two spent the bet­ter part of the day fix­ing and re­as­sem­bling the bed.

They named the animatronic elf Candy (she's clutch­ing a can­dy cane) and the sta­tion­ar­y one Jas­per and start­ed mak­ing up stor­ies a­bout the elves' pre­fer­ences and antics, as if they were more than wood-and-plas­ter dolls. Ernst even set the elves' sto­ry to mu­sic and made a YouTube vid­e­o.

The sis­ters say they have "joint cus­to­dy" of the elves, though they live with Ped­er­son — in the front win­dow of her living room dur­ing the hol­i­day sea­son, bunk­ing in her bed­room the rest of the year. The Christmas characters have become such a fixture that a few of Ped­erson's el­der­ly neigh­bors have ad­opt­ed them as sur­ro­gate grandchildren, making them hand-sewn quilts.

As an over-the-road truck­er, Ped­er­son is often away from home. So Ernst likes to surprise her by stopping by Ped­er­son's house and re­deco­rat­ing the elves. She's access­or­ized them with plas­tic eggs for East­er, be­decked them in pa­tri­ot­ic colors for the July 4th holiday, sur­round­ed them with a sum­mer­y beach scene of sand pails, fins and swim gog­gles.

"She's clean­ing her base­ment out and deco­rat­ing the elves," Ped­er­son joked.

Ped­er­son only turns Candy on when she's showing a visitor how she turns in her bunk bed. (She's afraid of wear­ing out the animatronic motor or start­ing the house on fire.) And she's con­sid­er­ing mak­ing a free-stand­ing glass house to dis­play the elves out­doors year-round.

"It was def­i­nite­ly an im­pulse pur­chase, but I have no re­grets," Ernst said. "We have more fun mak­ing up stor­ies a­bout them."

The sis­ters have start­ed a Face­book page for Candy and Jas­per, in case oth­er eighth-floor fig­ures want to "con­nect." Per­haps a fam­i­ly re­un­ion is in ord­er?

Ped­er­son's and Ernst's oth­er sib­lings definitely won't be host­ing. Their wel­come of the elves was rath­er tep­id.

"They rolled their eyes and said, 'Don't bring them to the cab­in. Don't bring them to our house. That's kind of creepy. You guys are crazy.' " Ernst re­called. "But Jill and I are like-mind­ed — we love our elves. Yeah, they creep peo­ple out, but we don't care."

Characters everywhere

The Day­ton's/Macy's hol­i­day dis­plays were among the larg­est in the coun­try, at­tract­ing rough­ly a half-mil­lion peo­ple an­nu­al­ly. Af­ter the store called it quits, a luck­y sub­set of in­sti­tu­tions and pri­vate col­lec­tors (including Ernst and Ped­er­son) picked up piec­es of be­loved local hol­i­day his­to­ry.

While some of the almost life-size char­ac­ters are on dis­play around the Twin Cities and at Duluth's Bentleyville light display, oth­ers re­main stashed in stor­age, await­ing the op­por­tu­ni­ty to de­light local chil­dren — as well as adults.

From a­mong the bal­let dan­cers, car­ol­ers, rein­deer and rats, curators from the Min­ne­so­ta His­tori­cal So­ci­e­ty selected three char­ac­ters with cross-generational ap­peal: Pi­no­cchi­o, Cin­der­el­la, and Har­ry Pot­ter's Pro­f. Se­ver­us Snape. They're currently in stor­age, on view for those who take a tour, gen­er­al­ly re­served for mem­bers.

Hennepin The­atre Trust, the non­prof­it own­ers of three down­town Min­ne­ap­olis theaters, got 38 characters, plus mis­cel­la­ne­ous wigs, clothes, hands and feet. (The trust plans to display them but es­ti­mates it will take a­bout $15,000 to re­fur­bish them.)

After the in­sti­tu­tions made their picks, assisted by some of the artists who had worked on the shows, the re­main­ing fig­ures went out on Macy's clear­ance-sale floor.

Matt Dunn, a ma­gi­cian who owns Scream Town, the Hal­low­een at­trac­tion in Chaska, bought a doz­en of the fig­ures he re­mem­bered from child­hood. Last year, he dis­played a clus­ter of Cin­der­el­la fig­ures in a store-win­dow-size case out­side his Plymouth home.

This year, he and his neigh­bor, who sets up el­abo­rate holiday light and mu­sic dis­plays, mer­ged their col­lec­tions. Their joint display can be viewed at 4130 Ju­neau Lane N., Plymouth, through Dec. 28.

Bill Ewald, an­oth­er longtime fan of the eighth-floor shows, re­called spend­ing hours as a kid try­ing to fig­ure out what made the char­ac­ters move. When they went up for sale, Ewald took pity on the mis­fits.

"I saw a col­lec­tion of piec­es that need­ed a lot of re­pair, in terms of motors, miss­ing arms, hands, ears, ant­lers, feet, and I thought, 'Gosh, those piec­es are going to end up scrapped' so I gath­ered as many of those as I could in a cou­ple of trips and hauled them home to a pa­tient wife," he re­called.

Mo­ti­vated to pre­serve a piece of Min­ne­ap­olis his­to­ry, and by an ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the "tre­men­dous serv­ice" Day­ton's pro­vid­ed the city with its free ex­hib­its, Ewald set to work re­fur­bish­ing seven elves and Pranc­er the Rein­deer. He installed new motors and built re­place­ment parts; his wife sewed new cloth­ing. The elaborate scene is now on display in the front win­dow of his Minne­tris­ta home.

Every week­day morn­ing, when the bus to a near­by mid­dle school pass­es by, the driv­er slows down so the kids can take a peek. Dog walk­ers and wreath-sell­ers ask if they can come in­side for a bet­ter look. A visit­ing wa­ter heat­er re­pair­man took photos.

"I put it to­gether to hu­mor the chil­dren, but it's the adults who are get­ting a kick out of it," Ewald said.

Ra­chel Hut­ton • 612-673-4569