The pageant was founded by Edward Hayward, an Australian businessman best known for owning and managing the department store chain John Martin’s (closed in 1998). He was inspired by Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York and the Toronto Santa Claus Parade. The festival was designed to advertise Hayward’s store chain, but over the years it has become more than just a marketing trick.
The first “Children’s Christmas Parade” was held on November 18, 1933. Although the Great Depression was at its height and the parade featured just 8 floats and 3 bands, it was a success. The first parade attracted about 200,000 spectators. That’s how the tradition of was born. In the mid-1990s, the event was acquired by the South Australian Government.
The inaugural pageant lasted about 40 minutes, while today’s Adelaide Christmas Pageant, also known as the Credit Union Christmas Pageant, is a 3-hour event that features about 70 floats, 15 bands, and hundreds of performers. The procession walks through the city center from South Terrace to North Terrace, culminating in the arrival of Father Christmas.
One of the pageant’s most notable traditions is the Royal Family. Originally, there was only the Pageant Queen. Later, the Pageant King, Princes and Princesses were introduced. Together, they make up the Pageant Royal Family, visiting schools, libraries, children’s groups, and hospitals to share the Pageant magic. Originally, only those who work for John Martin’s or a credit union were eligible. However, since 2016 any South Australian can apply to be considered as a member of the Royal Family.
The Adelaide Christmas Pageant is traditionally held on the second Saturday of November, until that day falls on Remembrance Day (November 11, commemorates Commonwealth war dead), in which case the parade is moved to the Saturday before or after November 11.
As the parade attracts hundreds of thousands of spectators, the organizers recommend that you arrive early to get the best spot (using public transport is highly advisable because it helps to avoid the traffic). Many spectators bring rugs, blankets, cushions, or low folding chairs to sit on while they are waiting. Some even bring colorful chalk and decorate the Pageant route.
Photo by Greg Scales