Santa Claus—and live reindeer—came to town for Charleston’s first Christmas parade in the midst of the Great Depression
An ad in the The Charleston Evening Post
In 1933, Charleston was in the grips of the Great Depression. As folks struggled to make ends meet, the Christmas season loomed with less than joyful spirit. What could be done to boost morale and stimulate the economy?
The city’s powers-that-were, along with a group optimistically named the Charleston Christmas Jubilee Association, came up with the solution: a parade! One so grand it would draw people from the entire Lowcountry to King Street’s shops and restaurants. A person might only spend 20 cents at one of the cafeterias, but if crowds came, the coffers would fill.
Thus on Saturday, December 9, the city’s very first “Santa Claus Parade” became a reality. “It is appropriate that Santa Claus will bring with him... clowns and merrymakers who will aid the children and grownups of this community in making this Christmas the happiest time of their lives,” wrote The News and Courier. For weeks prior, newspapers hyped the event to ensure its success. Their efforts paid off.
Charleston’s streets were jammed with people who came to watch the marching bands and floats carrying storybook characters like Mickey Mouse, Felix the Cat, Old King Cole, and Little Boy Blue. An Alaskan husky sled-dog team pulled a float carrying the children who had won the best-letter-to-Santa contest. Bringing up the rear was St. Nick, himself—his sleigh conveniently equipped with rubber wheels for traversing city streets and pulled by honest-to-goodness reindeer.
“Thousands formed a solid mass from Spring Street to Broad to view the Christmas parade,” wrote The News and Courier the next morning. “Thousands more came out yesterday afternoon and last night to give merchants what was said to be the best day they have experienced since the depression began.”