History of the Santa parade

Christmas parades have been held in the main centres of New Zealand since the early 1900s, usually sponsored by department stores to promote the arrival of “in-store” Santas, which attracted customers into their stores. Santa made his first commercial appearance in Auckland in 1903 at the DSC store (later John Court Ltd).

Farmers Department Store in Auckland first hosted the parade in 1934. The following year local competitor George Court paraded Santa. Farmers later became the main department store to host the Santa Parade in Auckland.

Ref: AWNS-19081217-14-6, Santa Claus, 1908. Sir George Grey Special Collections
On Saturday 20 November1937, Farmers had their Santa parachute into the Auckland Domain to distribute toys to waiting children. This stunt almost went wrong as well-known parachutist George Sellars narrowly escaped serious injury when he swung his parachute away from the glass roof of the Winter Gardens. Sellars jumped from only 1,000 feet up to give the children “an additional thrill”. He was blown towards the Winter Gardens by a strong south-westerly wind, but luckily fell into a garden patch between the 2 hothouses. He limped to a shelter to get his beard (twisted by the fall) back into shape before bravely returning to assist with the distribution of gifts. You can read more about this incident through Papers Past.

Ref: 1-W302, Farmers Department Store, 1924, Sir George Grey Special Collections
Farmers first put up their “giant Santa” in 1960 on the front of their building (corner Hobson and Wyndham Streets). The fibre glass and steel structure weighed about 4,535 kg and was 18 metres tall. The giant Santa featured on the front of the Farmers building until 1990, when the store was put up for sale. Santa was later restored and found a new home above the Whitcoulls on Queen Street.

Ref: 1-W458, Whitcoulls, 1917, Sir George Grey Special Collections
By the late 1980s, department stores could no longer shoulder the large costs of the parades, and Christmas parades eventually came to be funded by councils, community trusts and a variety of commercial sponsors.

Fancy finding out a bit more? Then look no further than these resources from the Ministry for Culture and Heritage:
Author: Auckland Council Heritage Unit