Do you remember your first Christmas parade?
Seeing Santa all dressed up on a float, the excitement - or as an adult, watching how excited the children were?
Well, it all started in Wellington with what is believed to be the first Santa parade in New Zealand in 1905. The George and Kersley store, the Economic, wanted to advertise their in store Santa and invited local children to watch Santa arrive at the railway station.
It led to many other stores doing similar things.
In the first years Santa arrived by car or truck but after a few years department stores began to compete with how Santa would turn up and how fancy it all was.
In the 1930’s Christchurch store Armstrong’s had their Santa arrived on an elephant while Farmers in Auckland and the DIC in Christchurch had theirs arrive by plane (although he came from the airport in a car).
But in 1937 Farmers in Auckland came up with a stunt that nearly ended in disaster - both in terms of danger and in terms of public relations.
A plan was formed for Santa to parachute into the Auckland domain and distribute presents for the kids.
But Santa - parachutist George Sellars - was to jump from just 300 metres after standing on the wing of the plane. It was so low so spectators could see him before he jumped.
Sellars had made odd landings before, once on to the roof of a car and another time on to a cow!
It started ok, his parachute opened but he was off course and headed for the massive glass roof of the Winter Garden. By some miracle he managed to alter course and landed heavily between two hothouses, narrowly missing two gardeners.
Manager of Farmers Trading at the time Robert Laidlaw who was watching thought he was going to be the first man to kill Santa Claus.
But Sellars rallied, adjusted his beard, and got on with handing out presents.
Sellars had been born on April 14, 1910 in Balclutha to George and Alice Sellars. He worked as a fitter in the railways but had an accident that left him with an odd walk. He gained a pilots licence in 1931 then went on to become New Zealand’s first parachutist.
He made many dangerous jumps - the Santa one was only one of many - but the last was on July 2, 1938 at the opening of the aerodrome at North Beach Westport. He jumped from 2000 ft but his parachute never opened and he fell to his death.
Sellars is buried at Anderson’s Bay cemetery in Dunedin.
This is our last story for the year. See you in 2024!
Photo by Tim Mossholder.
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