Northbrook Historical Society: Santa Claus Parade all about launching holiday season

  • While the arrival of Santa Claus in downtown Northbrook often was celebrated with a variety of festivities from the mid-1950s into the early 1980s, Santa also often visited other nearby shopping areas. Here he tours the perimeter of Deerbrook Mall in style aboard a Northbrook fire truck in 1972.

    While the arrival of Santa Claus in downtown Northbrook often was celebrated with a variety of festivities from the mid-1950s into the early 1980s, Santa also often visited other nearby shopping areas. Here he tours the perimeter of Deerbrook Mall in style aboard a Northbrook fire truck in 1972. Courtesy of the Northbrook Historical Society

 
 
Updated 12/23/2020 11:06 PM

When Santa Claus scheduled a visit to Northbrook in early December 1955, he did not make any modest plans. According to one news story:

"Santa Claus will arrive in Northbrook Saturday morning perched atop a one-ton missile as the Christmas season is ushered in with a giant parade and party. Sponsored by the Northbrook Chamber of Commerce, the parade will feature the traditional floats, bands and marching units.

 

"Leading the parade will be the president of the village, John Hirschmann, accompanied by an American Legion color guard. Maple School will be represented with a float, and the Northbrook Junior High School Band ... will also entertain. Sixteen units of Girl Scouts and Brownies and their leaders ... and the Boy Scouts ... will also be on hand to help launch the Christmas festivities.

"The 86th 'A' Missile BN of Fort Sheridan will bring a color guard marching unit of 30 men if the weather permits. With them will be a missile and booster ..."

Talk about a grand entrance.

For many people, parades rank high on the list of favorite events canceled by the ongoing pandemic. In Northbrook during 2020, the two biggest parades that never happened were those scheduled for the Fourth of July and Memorial Day.

Though it has faded from the memories of many Village residents, the annual Santa Claus Parade in December once ranked as a highlight rivaling those other parades.

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The Santa parade itself served as evidence of the phenomenal post World War II growth of Northbrook, which in 1950 had a population of 3,348 -- but by 1955 that figure reached an estimated 8,148, and in 1960 it was 11,635.

One result was construction of Northbrook Shopping Plaza, which included 12 stores and opened on Oct. 21, 1954. Five years later, Meadow Shopping Center (19 stores) held its grand opening on Nov. 19, 1959.

Prior to this business expansion, the Northbrook Chamber of Commerce held its first meeting on May 19, 1950 -- meaning that organization celebrated its 70th birthday earlier this year. The Northbrook Chamber was granted a charter by the Chamber of Commerce of the United States on Feb. 28, 1955.

It was the Northbrook Chamber of Commerce that sponsored the early Santa Claus parades, and as the description of the one in 1955 shows, they were not small undertakings.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The Santa Claus Parade continued for many years, though not always on such a large scale. The focus turned more to the downtown shopping centers themselves; for example, Santa's 1976 visit to Northbrook stores was previewed with a photo of "Santa's SuperRocket" that would provide rides around the shopping centers for local children.

Santa's arrival continued to be celebrated into at least the early 1980s. By 1981, one story said that "Santa Claus will be arriving in Northbrook Saturday -- courtesy of the merchants in the Northbrook Shopping Center ... He will be arriving at 10:30 a.m. and will be moving through the center until reindeer feeding time at 4:30 p.m. Santa will also be attending the center and giving children sleigh rides on Dec. 19 and Christmas Eve."

Jim Hoover, a former Northbrook Fire Department captain, recalled occasionally being the driver of a Village fire truck that would transport Santa Claus around the shopping area. He also said that sometimes the fire truck would drive the North Pole visitor to other commercial centers such as Deerbrook Mall, and that he remembers also driving Santa through Glenbrook Countryside.

So, when the Fourth of July and Memorial Day parades and other favorite events finally do return to Northbrook, think back for a moment to one of the biggest happenings that likely now will only remain a part of Village history: the Santa Claus Parade and the welcoming of that special guest to Northbrook to begin the holiday season.

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