At the very first Macy*s Thanksgiving Day Parade, November 27th, 1924, the climax of the big --- and, at the time, very long --- march was the same climax as at every Parade since: Santa Claus' arrival in front of Macy*s Herald Square. It was at that first Parade, so the story tells, that Santa was then assisted by several Parade officials in climbing a ladder to the top of the Herald Square store's main marquee, now dominated by the three-sided u-shaped clock which ticks the hours of the day. Where that clock now stands, the organizers had mounted a large throne, gussied up in papier-mache, and made to resemble a Royal Throne. Once Santa was seated upon this Throne, he was asked to remove his usual hat, and made to position his head a certain way. Then, a rather unusual type of crown was placed upon Santa's head. This ritual thus completed, a Proclamation was then read to those attending the ceremony, whereby Santa Claus was henceforth declared --- "King of the Kiddies," Lord High Sovereign and Monarch of the Dreams of the Children of the World!
For the first several subsequent years of its early history, specifically 1925 until circa 1932, the Macy*s Thanksgiving Day Parade would continue to climax with the Coronation of Santa Claus as King of the Kiddies. As the years passed, however, it began to dawn on the higher-ups at Macy*s that Santa was pretty much King of the Kiddies even without having to be crowned as such. So for the remainder of the 1930's until the Parade's cancellation in light of the events of World War II, Santa continued to be enthroned at Macy*s Herald Square, wearing only his familiar red velvet hat. The Macy*s Thanksgiving Day Parade was renewed with the end of World War II; Santa, however, was no longer enthroned in the subsequent years afterwards. Despite this, he continues to stay in good terms with the powers that be at Macy*s to this very day.
Fast-forward to the late 1950's, when a certain Professor Tribini, one of the most popular entertainers in Denmark, had a vision: having a taste for frivolity, the wise and merry Professor conceived of an annual event that would promote the wonder of Christmas in the merry, merry month of .... July? Even those who thought very highly of Tribini thought him mad when he simply described the concept. But Tribini was nothing if not determined. His idea was to assemble Santa Clauses and their associates from all over the world for an annual three-day festival where frolic, merriment and determining the day when Santa would deliver his presents --- Christmas Eve, of course --- would be among the main items of each day.
Nearly six decades later, that single vision has blossomed into one of Denmark's --- and the world's --- most endearing and most endurable holiday traditions: the World Santa Claus Congress, held on the grounds of Bakken, the world's oldest-existing and oldest continuously-operational amusement park, located in the village of Klampenbourg, near the capital city of Copenhagen. Since 1996, however, the Congress, currently co-organized by the Bakken staff and the Danish Santa Claus Guild, has developed an additional tradition. Here, Santas from the host country of Denmark assemble one day before the Congress is officially declared open, so that das Dansk Julemands Laug can stage its annual Convention, at Santa's Moot in the Elfwood area of Bakken. Elfwood is the site of the Santa obstacle course competition, which takes place during the Congress; here, too, the huge Christmas tree is always fully decorated --- and, as one might expect, the Jolly One is in residence year 'round.
At each year's World Santa Claus Congress, a prime highlight is the selection and coronation of the "Santa of the Year," a prominent Danish-born celebrity, political figure, or person with specific ties to Denmark, who has demonstrated the performance of good works achieved over the preceding 12 months. In 2009, the Guild and the Bakken team bestowed the Santa of the Year honor upon a key member of the Danish Royal Family: Countess Camilla of Rosenborg, whom the Guild had honored in recognition of her efforts on behalf of children across Denmark who were suffering from cancer.
But that same year, the DJL chose their own Santa of the Year as well. Meet Olavi Niikanoff. Olavi who? you're probably asking. Well, in October 2005, Olavi, a typical Danish farmer during the off-season, complained to the Danish Air Force when one of their F-16 fighter jets soared over his property, literally frightening his only reindeer to death. Olavi's critters were grazing one fine morning, and all of a sudden, here comes this F-16 fighter jet zooming high over the hills. One of the reindeer who was grazing went into cardiac shock and died almost immediately. And as you can imagine, Farmer Niikanoff was definitely NOT pleased. And when the big brass of the Danish Air Force were accordingly notified, they recompensed Olavi with a big sum of money --- $5000, to be exact --- and eventually, Olavi bought himself a brand new reindeer.
July 19th, 2009, turned out to be something special for Olavi Niikanoff, as his fellow Danish Santas chose him to be crowned their "other" Santa of the Year --- in other words, a variation on the original tradition begun at the first Macy*s Thanksgiving Day Parade: the declaration of Santa Claus as King of the Kiddies.
Here are the 21 Kings and Queens who have worn the Great Mantle with honour:
The wonder and silliness of the World Santa Claus Congress have perhaps their best representations in the photographs and video footage of the event's unofficial chronicler, Per Krogh Petersen, alias "Mr. Sputnik." See his new gallery here; and view a more extensive gallery of photos from previous World Santa Claus Congresses is available here.