Claus in stores slide show

Click on the photograph above to see department store advertisements for Christmas visits from Santa Claus taken from the Evening Post, 1896–1914.

The tradition of Santa Claus in stores

Generations of young New Zealanders have visited Santa’s grotto at their local department store or mall at Christmas. Many have sat on Santa’s knee and reassured him that they have been good this year before answering the key question – what do you want for Christmas?

Santa is firmly at the centre of these rituals that are part of the multi-billion-dollar consumer-spending ‘tradition’ that Christmas has become.

Santa Claus made his commercial debut in New Zealand in 1894 when he took his place, complete with tree and toys, among the furniture in the DIC store on Wellington’s Lambton Quay. Santa appeared in Dunedin for the first time in 1902, also at the DIC. He arrived in Auckland in 1903 at the DSC store (later John Court Ltd).

Toys were not a permanent feature in most department stores, but having ‘Santa in the house’ in the lead-up to Christmas changed this. In 1896 Wellington’s DIC temporarily handed over its furniture section to Santa and his display of toys, beginning the trend of creating ‘Christmas wonderlands’. In 1903 children visiting Santa at the DSC in Auckland were treated to a ‘Magic Cave’ designed by ‘Frank L. Carr Jnr, the celebrated American Decorator’. As a result of these ventures, by the mid-1920s many stores had established permanent toy departments.

Santa Claus still appears in shops and malls, but children today have the option of sending Santa an email or text message with suggestions about preferred presents. They can even follow his movements on Christmas Eve on the Internet. Today’s grandparents are left shaking their heads and muttering ‘In my day…’.

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