Santa's Whiskers

Parades to see

The In 1930 a Mother Goose flat re-appeared and would become the parade’s longest running float (30 years).

Fred Lazarus Jr. persuaded President Franklin Roosevelt in 1939 to move Thanksgiving to the fourth Thursday of the month to prolong the holiday shopping season. 

Jobless and homeless men wait for a free dinner in New York in this 1932 file photo. 
The Mother Goose float led off the first J.L. Hudson Thanksgiving Day parade (1924) 

The Santa Float in the 1924 Macy’s Parade.
Gimbels Thanksgiving Parade in 1934 at Broad near Arch. 
“The Age” Brighton Coach in front of the “Bull & Mouth”, Regent Circus, Piccadilly.
The Traveling Circus. Similar to the circus carts during Middle Ages. Painted by Noel Saunier, middle or late 1800’s. 

Ancient Greek procession of the Dionysia.

Christmas Parades

Who doesn’t love a parade? Parades are fun! Colorful decorated floats, brightly costumed people, bands playing music, dignitaries in shiny cars, lots of enthusiasm, smiles and noise. And the traditional Thanksgiving Day, or Christmas, parade is especially fun because it announces the arrival of Santa Claus and the beginning of the holiday season. 

The History of Parades

But parades have a history long before that of Christmas. Ancient paintings in Spanish caves that date back ten thousand years suggest that the earliest parades consisted of prehistoric men carrying back to camp the game they had killed during the hunt.

Building illustrations from 4000 – 3000 B.C. show Mesopotamian rulers walking on the heads of conquered enemies in front of their army, an action designed to lift the monarch’s prestige and cement his legitimacy as a ruler.

As early as 3000 B.C. religious processions were another form of parade, formed in the hopes of moving a step nearer to heaven.

By 700 – 600 B.C. the ancient Greeks brought
together in their parades all the essential items
needed in modern parades, including music,
marchers, floats and animals.

​For the ancient Romans, 500 B.C. – 500 A.D.,
the parade was a military maneuver, an army
marching together to frighten many of their
enemies. But during this time parades were
also held to introduce performers from the
circus. And the Romans would also have
parades for the different seasons, and civil
parades called “triumphs” to celebrate special

​During the Middle Ages, 500 – 1400 A.D., circus parades and
brightly painted carts of Italy brightened people’s lives amidst
the misery of medieval times. The parades developed a flashy
and exotic mood and the public waited in anticipation for such

​The modern circus was created in England by Philip Astley
​(1742-1814), a former cavalry Sargeant-Major turned
showman. In England circus performances were performed
in circus buildings and every major European city had at
least one permanent circus building.

​But in the early nineteenth century, the United States was a new, developing country with few cities large enough to support long-term resident circuses. And settlers were steadily pushing the American frontier westward, establishing new communities in the process of expansion. To reach their public, showmen ​had no choice but to travel light and fast.

The larger circuses would announce their arrival in town with a
circus parade, which was a natural advertisement that would
attract crowds to the performance.

The ModernChristmas Parade

1887 Peoria, Illinois
It’s interesting to note that the longest running Christmas parade had its start during the growing popularity of American circuses. In Peoria, Illinois, the tradition began in 1887, with a parade on the Illinois River of barges, boats and derricks as part of the construction of the Upper Free Bridge. Santa Claus made his first appearance that year, arriving on a river barge.

The following year the parade was moved to land and wound its way through downtown Peoria. From then on Santa’s spot in the parade was in a horse-drawn carriage, on a Mother Goose float or atop a 12-foot gilded circus wagon.

In 1889, and for the next 71 years of the parade’s history, local department store Schipper & Block sponsored the event, creating the concept of the department store parade that was later emulated in larger cities.

1905 Toronto, Canada
1905 saw the beginning of what was to become one of the
largest parades. The Toronto Santa Claus Parade was started in
by the Eaton’s department store. That first year Santa
arrived on a train, met
Mr. and Mrs. Eaton, and then walked to
the Eaton’s downtown store. The first
float was introduced in
1908 and consisted of one truck with a band to
Santa. The annual mid-November parade now has over 24
floats, 24
bands, and 1,700 participants. http://en.wikipedia.

1920 Philadelphia
Gimbels Department Store in Philadelphia started its parade
in 1920. That first parade was made up of fifty Gimbels
employees, but quickly grew into a festival of floats, balloons
and high school
marching bands. At the end of the parade
came Santa Claus who, upon reaching
Gimbels, scaled a
ladder to the store’s eighth floor, the home of Gimbel’s
“Toyland.” By 1986 the parade boasted twenty bands, twenty
floats and
forty-eight balloons, as well as 4,500 people
assisting with the production.

The Philadelphia parade claims to be the oldest parade in the
United States actually held on Thanksgiving Day, as
the older
​parade in Peoria is held the day after.

1924 New York City
In 1924 Macy’s employees started the Macy’s
Christmas Parade in New York, which featured
animals from the Central
Park Zoo. There were
three floats pulled by horses, four bands and the
– camels, donkeys, elephants and goats.
Santa Claus was the last in the lineup.

In 1927 the parade debuted Felix the Cat, the
first of what would become the parade’s
signature balloons. By 2006
there were more
than 33 floats, 12 giant character balloons, and
48 novelty,
ornamental balloons, balloon heads
and balloonicles. http://people.howstuffworks.

Today, the parade is seen by more than 3.5 million people in New York and 50 million people at home watching television. Since 1979 twelve televised broadcasts of the parade have been awarded Emmys for outstanding achievement.

1924 Detroit, Michigan
The same year that Macy’s started its parade (1924), the
J. L. Hudson Company staged its
first Thanksgiving
Parade in Detroit, Michigan. Charles F. Wendel, the
manager at Hudsons, organized the first parade.
Inspired by the papier-mache
heads he had seen at
carnivals in Venice and Viareggio, Italy, he had four
created for that first parade.

The giant heads came from a small studio in Viareggio,
Italy, hand made by Alfredo Morescalchi
and his staff.
Morescalchi was the chief designer of flats and masks
for the
Viareggio carnival, the largest in Italy. Over the
​years he made hundreds of
heads for the Hudson’s
parade. The heads in Italy are three stories high, but
because of overhead wires, the Detroit heads were smaller. In Detroit, Charlie Gettel patched and pampered the heads for more than 45 years. Famous people portrayed by the more than 600 heads included Henry Ford, Rosa Parks, Charles Lindbergh and Joe Louis.

The first parade also had four bands, ten floats depicting nursery rhymes (including a decorated Mother Goose float and The Old Woman Who Lived In A Shoe float, both pulled by horses). In 1925, 300 male employees of Hudson’s marched in the parade. Detroit Creamery loaned its horses and wagons to pull the 26 floats and Santa. A live elephant was used to promote a toy sold at the store.

Over the years the parade has grown with giant balloons, floats, marching bands, cartoon characters, celebrities and more. It was first televised locally in 1948 and is now broadcast nationally to more than 100 million viewers.

Changing the Date of Thanksgiving

Not longer after these early parades took root and began to
grow, The Great Depression of 1929 started. It was
severe and
worldwide, the longest, deepest and most widespread
depression of
the 20th century. Personal income, tax revenue,
profits and prices dropped,
international trade plunged by
more than 50%. Unemployment rose to 25%. The
lasted until the late 1930’s or early 1940’s.

All of which had its impact on retailers like Macy’s, Hudson’s,
Gimbel’s, Eaton’s
and others. The Christmas season was (and
is) an important income-generating
time of year for stores of
all kinds. At the time, advertising goods for
Christmas before
Thanksgiving was considered inappropriate.

Traditionally each President had annually declared the last
Thursday in November to be
Thanksgiving Day. Most of the
time that meant the fourth Thursday in the month.
But every
​five years there are five Thursdays in the month of November,
opportunity for retailers to have a longer Christmas season.

1939 was such a year. Fred Lazarus, Jr., founder of Macy’s, is credited with
President Roosevelt to push Thanksgiving that year to a week
earlier to expand
the shopping season. With the country still in the midst
of The Great
Depression, Roosevelt thought an earlier Thanksgiving
would give merchants a
longer period to sell goods before Christmas,
increasing profits and spending.
He hoped this would help bring the
country out of the Depression, so he
declared the fourth Thursday of
November 1939 as Thanksgiving. Within two years
the change passed
through Congress into law.