Skip to comments.First in-store Father Christmas was from Edinburgh
Posted on 12/24/2011 3:10:23 AM PST by afraidfortherepublic
HE WAS the young Scot who sailed to America to seek his fortune and ended up becoming the first department store Santa.
Now the memory of James Edgar is being revived in an effort to boost the fortunes of his adoptive home of Brockton, Massachusetts.
Born in Edinburgh in 1843, Edgar escaped the poverty of his childhood by moving to Brockton in 1878, where he set up a department store.
Known for his progressive ideas, the entrepreneur was the first in the city to introduce electric lights and cash registers.
Edgar was also known for his philanthropy, paying for local childrens medical care and offering jobs to young people.
A born childrens entertainer often walking around his store dressed as a clown, a sea captain or even the first US president, George Washington he first took to dressing as Santa in 1890, inspired by the drawings of political illustrator Thomas Nast.
Explaining his reason for donning the iconic red outfit, he once said: I have never been able to understand why the great gentleman lives at the North Pole. He is so far away. He is only able to see the children one day a year. He should live closer to them.
Such was the popularity of his idea that, within days, children travelled from as far as Boston and Providence, Rhode Island, to see Edgar as Santa, helping to establish a tradition that exists to this day.
In an interview in 1979, local man Edward Pearson recalled meeting Edgar as Santa. You cant imagine what it was like, he said. You had heard of Santa Claus. You had seen sketches of him in the newspapers. Then all of a sudden you entered the Boston Store over on Main Street, and there he was right in front of you. You didnt think it could possibly happen. It was like a dream come true. You were actually talking to Santa Claus.
Although Edgar died in 1909, residents of Brockton, which has been hit hard by the global financial downturn, are now intent on exporting his story around the world and turning their city into Christmastown.
Local businessman John Merian, president of the Downtown Brockton Association, has been instrumental in campaigning for this.
Ive been trying to get this story out and try to get Brockton proud of something so iconic, and this man who was so visionary, he said.
He took the character of Santa and brought him to life in the purest of ways, because he didnt do it for any financial gain, he did because he loved children.
In recognition of his ideas, Edgar is already one of the most important figures in the Santa Hall of Fame a museum devoted to the history of Father Christmas, based at the appropriately named town Santa Claus in Indiana where he is credited as a charter member.
Edgars great-grandnephew Hugh Smith, of Thornliebank, Glasgow, said that his ancestors story had continued down the years.
Hes always been talked about by members of the family, almost always around Christmas time, he said. Its very good to know his memory is kept alive in Brockton.
James Edgar became the USA's first department store Santa in 1890
Thomas Nast image of Santa Claus.
Another Nast rendition
Christmastown? Brockton??? Is this supposed to be humor?
Not to turn this into a religious debate, I find it interesting that Edgar was from Edinburgh as the Calvinist legacy in Scotland kept Christmas under wraps up until the Great Depression when the city fathers first strung some lights to stimulate retail activity. Nice story.
Calvinists like to make money maybe.
Brockton is one of the few towns with intramural boxing. Never pick a fight with a little guy from Brockton. You might win but you won’t enjoy it.
When I was a child in the 60s, Edgar’s spirit was still strong in the area. His store was still open and remained a large celebrator of Christmas. Over the past 50 years Brockton slid down from a beautiful countrified city to divided havens of immigrants, drugs and crime, developing a bad reputation that’s bigger than is real. Home of Rocky Marciano, they only recently received a smallish statue of him hoping to promote the town that way yet I don’t know if they’ve decided on a location as it’s been problem, too. Good Luck, Brockton, and have a wonderful new year.
I grew up in Boston/Dorchester.
Back in my youth Brockton was a getaway place for people wanting to escape the crime and problems of the city.
Boston essentially exported a portion of its troubles to Brockton and the City of Champions is not at all now what it once was.
Still, I know many who simply love that town and though it will never likely attain again its former iconic status as a city devoid of big city problems, it will likely for a very long time remain fondly remembered for its particular special glories. Notables such as the once great Brockton Fair, and one of the best high school football teams in America come to mind.
I knew/worked with a fellow who emigrated from Czechoslovakia and deliberately chose to live in Brockton. His reason? Brockton High School was famous in his part of eastern Europe for having one of the greatest Jazz Bands in the world. Who living in Brockton ever knew that? I had to learn it from a fellow who lived 4000 miles away and had English as a second language.
So much more if I had time.