The economic aspect of the Christmas season has long been a part of the holiday. So we shouldn’t be surprised one of Augusta’s first great Broad Street Christmas parades was designed to get customers into downtown stores.
In October 1933, The Chronicle announced, with front-page enthusiasm, the business community’s plan for a Dec. 12 Santa Claus parade.
“When good Saint Nick makes his triumphal entry into Augusta to inaugurate the 1933 holiday season officially, he will ride the wings of the Blue Eagle of the NRA,” the newspaper reported.
The NRA was the National Recovery Administration, a Dep-ression era agency set up to improve the economy and it encouraged such civic displays across the country.
“The great pageant … is to be a signal to roll down the curtain on depression …” the newspaper wrote.
Legendary civic booster Lester S. Moody, then-secretary of the Chamber of Commerce, modestly declared “Augusta has never seen anything like it.”
Two months later, he was proved right with a parade as grand as planned.
Despite a very cold, damp Tuesday, Dec. 12, thousands lined Broad Street from Fifth to 13th streets. School children – free from classwork – packed the street.
They saw Santa Claus. They saw reindeer. They saw a “gigantic spectacle” including bands, magnificent floats, living totem poles, pets, ponies, possum, raccoons, hound dogs – “everything was there to do honor to his Christmas majesty Saint Nicholas.”
The parade was so long it took nearly two hours to pass a given spot, the newspaper reported.
There was not only a contest for the best parade entry or float, there were cash prizes. (The city of Augusta was the winner and got $35.) Houghton School got $30 for the most beautiful entry. Turpin Hill School got $30 for most original entry. And the Exchange Club won best float (and $30) in its category.
The parade also fulfilled its mercantile mission, bringing customers downtown.
“Stores, restaurants, refreshment places – all were packed and jammed,” The Chronicle reported. “Clerks hurried busily about the task of waiting on the tremendous crowd.”
It was just dark enough to have the Christmas lights turned on, “which added to the atmosphere of Christmas and the merchants had one of the busiest days they’ve had in the past four years.”
The 1933 Santa Claus parade didn’t pull Augusta out of the Depression, but it helped.
“Augusta was at her best,” a Chronicle editorial concluded the following day, “for all elements cooperated, working with a single purpose to put on one of the greatest pageants of recent years.”