Santa Comes to Town
Christmas romping through the years
Santa Claus Distributing Gifts From the Christmas Tree in the Music Hall of the 1884 Cotton Centennial Exposition in Audubon Park
On December 26, 1884, The Picayune reported that a 45-foot Christmas tree from Connecticut stood on the Music Hall stage at the Cotton Centennial Exposition in what is now Audubon Park. The tree was laden with toys, which Santa Claus (portrayed by Thomas Pickering, the Connecticut commissioner for the expo) distributed to the children present. Since there were too few children for all the presents, perhaps because New Orleans always seems to have attendance problems at World’s Fairs, ,it was decided to repeat the event in a week.
Clement Moore’s poem, “A Visit From St. Nicholas” was written in 1822, and defined the sled-driving jovial bringer of Christmas gifts. But by 1810 writer Washington Irving had popularized St. Nicholas as the “patron saint of New York”, a town settled by the Dutch. “Santa Claus” (from the Dutch “Sinterklaas”) became the preferred American name.
The first local mention of Santa Claus in the daily paper was in The Picayune, December 26, 1841, when a description of Christmas Day noted that “the children looked as happy as plumcake and the presents of Santa Claus could make them”
The 1850s saw a steamship named Santa Claus which plied the waters of New York State. Most memorably, the Santa Claus bore the body of statesman Henry Clay up the Hudson River to Albany, New York from Manhattan on his corpse’s ten-day journey from Washington, D.C. to Lexington, Kentucky.
By 1880, Santa Claus in New Orleans had become entangled with two German customs transported here: the Christmas tree and the kindergarten. As described in an 1881 issue of the Louisiana Journal of Education, Mrs. J. E. Seeman’s Kindergarten Institute hosted Santa Claus, who arrived “after a very rapid transit from Germany,” came through a second story window, and distributed gifts. The December 23, 1883 Picayune described the arrival of Santa Claus through a trap door on the stage before Mrs. Seeman’s little students at a party at “Werlein Hall,” a theater which formerly had hosted German plays and was owned by Phillip Werlein, music store proprietor.
Santa had made it to the department stores by Christmas Day, 1901, when D. H. Holmes had a contest, and took an ad in The Picayune to announce that “Santa will deliver his cake to Edna M. Konrad, 1731 Canal St., she having written him the best letter.”
By 1906, Santa himself was at the store. In the December 22, 1906 Picayune, D.H. Holmes advertised “Children’s Day in Toyland” where “Santa Claus is waiting, little ones, to listen to all your demands… and, he will see that your dreams come true.”
Maison Blanche also hosted Santa. In a December 4, 1914 Picayune ad, headlined “Toy and Doll Fairyland,” readers were invited to “visit Santa Claus.”
A few decades passed before Santa rode in his first Christmas parade. On December 12, 1940, WWL Radio aired a description at 9:30 p.m. of the children’s Christmas parade on Canal St., and on December 15, 1941, The Picayune reported “War might be raging throughout the world,” but “for the school children of New Orleans” the Christmas season started in earnest with the Christmas Parade “led by a roly-poly Santa Claus, riding in his reindeer-drawn sleigh.”
Luckily for us, Santa is still visiting New Orleans!