Sunday, December 10, 2017

Christmas Firsts #9 and #10 : Santa Impersonator

Today, two Christmas firsts in one hit!  
Warning: You may not want your children or grandchildren to read this post - it may shatter Christmas beliefs.... 
The firsts featured today are the FIRST store Santa Claus or if you want to be really brutal, the first Santa Impersonator and the first store to employ a Santa impersonator . Logically, this would be the one and the same story, but this, like many other claims to Christmas firsts, is contentious.
The first “Santa” - Many sources, verify that James Edgar, in Brockton, Massachusetts, commonly known as “Colonel Jim was  the first department store Santa Claus in 1890 . Edgar, the store owner, had a Santa costume tailored especially for him ( he was certainly the right build for a Santa figure) and a few weeks before Christmas 1890 he made his first appearance. Many years later a man who’d been a boy that day reminisced: “My parents had taken me over to the Boston store [Edgar’s] on Main Street. I remember walking down an aisle, and all of a sudden, right in front of me, I saw Santa Claus. I couldn’t believe my eyes. And then Santa came up and started talking to me. It was a dream come true.” By 1891 Santa had appeared at many major department stores, and by the turn of the century the department store Santa was an institution.

However, Macy’s the famous American department store linked to the classic film, “Miracle of 34th Street” traces its history of having a store Santa back to 1862.  This claim has been dismissed by some, calling Macy’s Santa as a “cookie cutter’ Santa, just a person dressed up enticing people to enter the store - quite different from Edgar’s Santa who interacted with children and gave out gifts. 
There are stories of Edgar’s generosity at Christmas - standing on the top of the roof of his store, throwing coins to crowds below and having 5,000 pairs of children’s shoes mended for free. An editor of “New England Today” as a footnote to the article about James Edgard wrote: “While retail giant Macy’s also claims to be the home of the first department store Santa, the distinction appears to lie in the manner of dress. James Edgar portrayed the fat, jolly version as popularized by artist Thomas Nast for the cover of Harper’s Weekly in 1862.” 
So, shall we give the title of FIRST shop Santa to James Edgar? But wait… is it just a matter of terminology?

J.W. Parkinson , in 1841, employed a person to impersonate Kris Kringle to climb down  the chimney of his shop - a confectionery in Philadelphia  From The "Philadelphia North American" of December 25, 1841 ( Remember, Christmas wasn’t a holiday in USA then. )
 "Cris cringle … Much as our young readers have heard and imagined of this worthy character as the bountiful patron of good children on Christmas Eve, they probably never expected to behold the real personage in the very act of descending a chimney, as our friend Parkinson has shown him over his well thronged shop door in Chestnut Street. He was decidedly the attraction yesterday and last evening, and monopolized more than his share of the attention of the young folks, which is usually bestowed with undivided admiration on the bon bons in the windows". So is Parkinson the first? 
Parkinson’s Confetionery and Restaruant , wood engraving, 1853:http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2002725450/
Then of course, I should mention that Santa Claus did appear in a Christmas tableau entitled  ‘Christmas Fairyland’ , in Lewis’s Bon Marche Department Store in  Liverpool, England in 1879 - a first  of the Christmas Grotto displays in stores . ( In Australia, this tradition was established by John Martin’s  Christmas Magic Cave in Adelaide in 1896 ) Phew, that's enough... I have given up trying to work out who was the first. I am sure like most families, our family has its own favourite Santa impersonator. 

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