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Santa Parade History

by Kerry Meadows-Bonner

Christmas Parades or Santa Parades as they’re more commonly referred to are parades held worldwide to celebrate the official opening of Christmas season with the arrival of Santa Claus.

Typically, these parades include themed floats, dancing, marching groups and bands with accompanying Christmas songs. As moving floats there is usually a starting point as the parade moves through its designated route, typically near its city centre or town. Often sponsored by department stores and other businesses, the floats often play another important role in reinforcing brands recognition during the shopping season.

In history the Christmas Parade is said to be a direct descendant of late Medieval and Renaissance revivals of the Roman Triumphs; the military victory parades held to honour military commanders who won important victories on the battlefields. With the similarities of the parade’s ‘leader’ riding in a chariot pulled by horses and Santa himself in his sleigh pulled by reindeer.

In 1890, the first ever Santa Parade was held in America, in the city of Peoria, Illinois, sponsored by Block & Kuhl’s (formally known as Frederick Block of the Schipper and Block Department Store, a dry goods store) It followed the existing routes of the city’s former parades (unrelated to Christmas) but for the first time featured Santa. This created the concept of the department store sponsored Christmas Parades that were later emulated not only in other cities and towns, but worldwide.

In New Zealand, Wellington’s George and Kersley Ltd’s store ‘the Economic’ was the first department store to ‘parade’ their Santa, in 1905. They invited local boys and girls to come and see ‘Mother and Father Christmas’ arrive at the railway station. The following year the pair stopped off in the Hutt Valley and Petone en route to the store in Lambton Quay, whilst another character, Punch, visited local suburbs and the hospital. This paved the way for the rest of the nation’s own Santa Parades and the new and exciting ways of how Santa or Saint Nick would arrive in the city each year, and fundamentally helped department stores adopt the idea of in-store Santas to help bring in Christmas shoppers.

In 1934, Auckland was the first city to hold the first official Farmers Santa Parade. A tradition that has been running for the last 86 years. Thousands of children and parents lined the footpaths to witness Auckland’s first real Christmas Parade that was led by several highly decorated carts pulled by horses and colourful characters of its era Waggles and Goggles, Man and The Giant and The Big Fiddle.

Throughout the years, New Zealand’s parades only got bigger and brighter until the Second World War that brought a halt to all parades. By 1948, Farmers had reinstated their Auckland parade as too had Christchurch. For the following decades there was relative stability in Santa Parades for the country, particularly for the big department stores that continued to dominate. This changed in the 1980s’s when parades had become too expensive for stores like Farmers, James Smith and Hays to fund and were taken over by charitable trusts and became overtly commercial as these trusts began selling off naming rights to entire parades, individual floats and characters.

At the same time, despite the commercialism, this allowed smaller towns to have their own Santa Parades and become representatives of our society with a broader range of diversity, community and voluntary groups participating alongside local businesses and traditional floats.

This year, in the wake of Covid 19, many small towns have now decided to cancel their Santa Parades until next year, including Pukekohe and Christchurch’s Christmas Parade that will be replaced with Santa’s Mega Grotto, however Auckland’s beloved Farmers Santa Parade and others will uphold their Christmas spirit and joy marking its return for 2020.

Santa Parade Event Dates

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elocal Digital Edition – December 2020 (#237)

elocal Digital Edition
December 2020 (#237)

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