The Adelaide Christmas Pageant is the largest annual Christmas celebration south of the Equator and, along with its counterparts in New York and Toronto among the most popular. The Pageant, beloved by Australian children of all ages, is of special Christmas historical interest as it ends at the famous Magic Cave, one of the world’s oldest annual Santa Claus meet-and-greet venues. Although the original sponsoring store is no longer in business, the pageant survives as a municipally-supported tradition, and is by far the most attended annual Christmas event in Australia.
The origins of the Adelaide Christmas Pageant go back to 1896, when John Martin’s Department Store, one of Australia’s premier commercial institutions, opened up its first Magic Cave. This display, which was set up in the toy department, was the first known Santa Claus meet and greet in Australia. The cave, which was becoming a popular holiday fixture in American department stores in the early 1890s, was imported by the owners of John Martin’s in 1896 and was very successful. The tradition continued for a century, until the store was closed and torn down in 1996. The David Jones department store, which replaced John Martin’s, inherited the tradition.
The parade came a few decades later. At the height of the Great Depression, store owner Edward Hayward desired to do something to lift the spirits of his fellow Australians. Inspired by Macy’s in New York and Eaton’s in Toronto, he created the Adelaide Christmas Pageant, a parade to welcome Santa Claus to the Magic Cave. The first parade in 1933 was fairly large for a first effort, drawing several hundred thousand people, and it grew from there. By the 1990s the size and popularity of the Adelaide parade made it the third most famous Christmas parade in the world. When John Martin’s store closed in 1996, popular demand resurrected the parade with new sponsors.
Officially known by the somewhat underwhelming ‘Credit Union Christmas Pageant’, the pageant parade winds its way through the streets of Australia’s capital city of Adelaide, approximately seven hundred miles west of Sydney. It usually takes place on the second or third Saturday of November, often the day before its Toronto counterpart. Santa Claus still receives supplicants at the David Jones Store in the Rundle Mall from the weekend of the pageant until Christmas. Store hours vary during the holiday season. Web: www.cupageant.com.au (official website of the Credit Union Christmas Pageant)