201512-event-production-christmas-history-featured
David Sonntag
CEO
24 Dec 2015

A Yuletide Throwback Thursday: 3 Christmas Event Traditions, Then and Now

Merry Christmas! And a cheery ’tis-the-season “thank you” to all our vendors, partners, readers and clients. You guys are our favorite people; we wouldn’t be here without you, and we wish you all a holiday season decked in lights and smothered in gravy. Not to get too sappy on ya, but this is inevitably the time of year when our thoughts turn to the past, and we remember with gratitude how far we’ve come not just as a company, but as an industry. Fancy a spot of history?

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

Started in 1924 by Macy’s department store employees, many of whom “were first-generation European immigrants. Proud of their new American heritage, they wanted to celebrate the American holiday of Thanksgiving with the type of festival their parents had loved in Europe.”

[The] employees marched to Macy’s flagship store on 34th Street dressed in vibrant costumes. There were floats, professional bands and live animals borrowed from the Central Park Zoo. At the end of that first parade, as has been the case with every parade since, Santa Claus was welcomed into Herald Square. At this first parade, however, the Jolly Old Elf was enthroned on the Macy’s balcony at the 34th Street store entrance, where he was then “crowned” ‘King of the Kiddies.’ With an audience of over 250,000 people, the parade was such a success that Macy’s declared it would become an annual event.

What started as an audience of 250,000 is now closer to one million.

Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting

Event Production Blog: First Christmas Tree Lighting

Here’s one for the event designers: did you know that the electric Christmas light was invented by none other than that titan of power, Thomas Edison? Before that, people lit their Christmas trees with actual candles, causing no shortage of house fires. The very first electrical Christmas tree lights were used in 1882 by Thomas Edison’s business partner, Edward Johnson, but they didn’t really catch on until President Grover Cleveland used them at the White House. Thirty years later, “the official Christmas tree tradition at Rockefeller Center began in 1933 (the year 30 Rockefeller Plaza opened), [but] the unofficial tradition began during the Depression-era construction of Rockefeller Center, when workers decorated a smaller 20 feet (6.1 m) balsam fir tree with ‘strings of cranberries, garlands of paper, and even a few tin cans’ on Christmas Eve (December 24, 1931), as recounted by Daniel Okrent in his history of Rockefeller Center.[10] One claim is the tree had some gum wrappers and detonator blasting caps as decorations.”

These days? Things are little more polished:

Event Production Blog: History of Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting

Good Save: the NORAD Santa Tracker

Did you know that the much-beloved NORAD Santa Tracker program began with an event marketing slip-up?

The program began on December 24, 1955, when a Sears department store placed an advertisement in a Colorado Springs newspaper which told children that they could telephone Santa Claus and included a number for them to call. However, the telephone number printed was misprinted and calls instead came through to Colorado Springs’ Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD) Center. Colonel Harry Shoup, who was on duty that night, told his staff to give all children who called in a “current location” for Santa Claus. A tradition began which continued when the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) replaced CONAD in 1958.

These days, the program is run by a series of volunteers and staff. Here’s the ad misprint that made history:

Event Production Blog: NORAD Santa Tracker SEARS

Neat, yeah?

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