16 December 2012

Roman Triumphs... and Santa Claus Parades

There's no earthly reason why Santa Claus Parades still exist.  But they do, God love 'em.

Like most media, they remain years after the termination date foreseen by the pallid party-poops of pop-culture prognostication.  These are the same breed who predicted that film would end live theatre, that the phonograph and Radio would end live concerts.  That Television would end Radio, and that the Inter-web would end both.    
You'd better not pout, I'm telling you why...

Santa Claus parades made sense in the mid-19th century, as urban centres grew, and new 'department' stores appeared.  In the late 1880's, the Schipper and Block Department Store of Peoria Illinois launched the tradition, perfected (pardon the home-town bias) a decade or two later by the T. Eaton Company of Toronto.

Why parades?  As a marketing tool (see under 'L' for "look at me, look at me, look at me") their purpose is obvious;  parades were commonly staged back then to create buzz and attract attention to the arrival of a circus or traveling theatre troop.

Here's where it gets fun:  the Santa Claus parade, as we know it, is a direct DNA descendant of the Roman 'Triumph'-  a grand arrival in the city of a victorious leader after a major military victory.  Sometimes the parade included spoils of war (such as the treasures of the Temple of Jerusalem following the Jewish revolt, or even citizens captured and enslaved).  It was a big 'hurrah' for the home team, and a big 'nana-nana-boo-boo' to the vanquished.
...Antonius Pius is comin' to town.

At the end of the Triumph- as with today's parade- came the main attraction:  the triumphant leader, typically in a chariot drawn by two horses- a biga, in Latin-speak. Four horses constitute a quadriga

Santa Claus, in the lore of Clement Clark Moore, drives an octiga. Is there a Latin term for a team of nine?  Here's guessing the Romans never anticipated Rudoph.

Curious how our customs- parades among them, evolve, and devolve, and reinvent, emerging in forms oh so far removed from their earliest ancestors.

Close your eyes a moment and imagine taking your kids to the mall this month, for a chance to sit on the lap of the Roman Emperor Titus, of the Flavian dynasty.

Photos $7.  Or two for 12 denarii.