I worked at the Macy’s Herald Square store in 1985 for the Christmas season. The men’s locker room looked exactly like it looked in the 1947 movie, Miracle On 34th Street. That’s because the movie was filmed in the store.
Macy’s practically reinvented Santa Claus out of Saint Nikolas, as a gift-giver who possessed these qualities that were not said of him previously:
1. There’s a Mrs. Claus
2. He’s fat
3. He wears a suit, not a robe
4. He slides down the chimney
5. He’s from the North Pole, not Turkey
6. He’s jolly
7. He arrives by sleigh drawn by eight reindeer named Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen (female fox), Comet, Cupid, Donder (thunder) and Blitzen (storms).
Macy’s first Thanksgiving Day Parade was held in 1924. The very last float has always been Santa Claus. He invites kids to ‘come visit me in Santaland,’ which takes up half a floor.
A single line of kids is separated into several (7 in 1993 when my son went) lines that end inside seven little wooden houses, each decked out for Christmas, and staffed by a Santa and an Elf. How do I know about the seven houses? I’m tall! But the kids are too short to see over the greenery that lines the paths.
Santa was very convincing and had a real beard. The wooden hut felt homey and cozy. I had to stoop a little when I entered and exited. It was a nice experience.
Some background on how Santa Claus got his modern name: The first Europeans to colonize this region were the Dutch. The Dutch had a longstanding association with ‘Sinter Klaas’, their Dutchified name for Saint Nikolas. They began the tradition of gifts for small children on the night before Saint Nicholas Day, December 6th. This carried over to the Nieuw Nederlands colonies in this region.
In the 1600s, the entire East Coast north of Florida was loaded with English people in growing, strictly religious English colonies surrounding Dutch Nieuw Nederlands. Many English who couldn’t cope with going to church three times a day, and other such practices – such as burning blasphemers – defected from their colonies and got permission to live in the Dutch lands. By 1660, some half the population of Nieuw Nederlands was English.
The Dutch tradition of gift giving by Sinter Klaas became accepted by the new people, who slowly changed his name to Santa Claus. The custom spread further after the takeover of Nieuw Nederlands by the British in 1664 under king Richard II. Nieuw Amsterdam became New York City.
By now I bet you can guess who was picked by New York City to be its heavenly representative? Yes, Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of New York. We have a mile long Avenue in Manhattan named for him. Here it is.
So if you ask me if I believe in Santa Claus, of course I do. I’m a new Yorker!