Santa's Sleigh is a float that traditionally appears at the end of every Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. The float traditionally depicts Santa Claus riding on his trademark sleigh. Since the late 1970s, the float has bookended the Parade with Tom Turkey, who leads the Parade down the Parade route every year.
History with the Macy's Parade
Santa's Sleigh was one of the original floats designed for the initial parade. Much like the other floats from the time frame, the design was simple, with Santa sitting upon a mountain of snow in his sleigh with evergreen trees added discretely throughout the float. This float is also notable for being one of the only-ever floats to be horse-drawn, a practice that would be phased out throughout the 1930s and 1940s.
In 1925, the second edition of the Macy's Christmas Parade was bigger and better than the previous year's incarnation -- and the Santa's Sleigh float was no exception. The float featured Jolly Old Saint Nicholas riding a gigantic globe that rested on huge icebergs and was driven by a team of horses disguised as polar bears.
With the announcement of Macy's Christmas Parade returning for the 1926 holiday season, another new float depicting the fat man in the red suit was designed and crafted by the magicians at Macy's Long Island Warehouse. The float was built on the base of a flatbed truck, as Santa Claus arrived with a giant delegation of harlequins and columbines, riding in an enormous sleigh with a retinue of seven elves and a picked bodyguard of 21 Snow Men. The third Santa's Sleigh float was retired after making only one appearance.
1927 brought another brand-new Santa Claus-themed float to the Parade. The float deviated from its predecessors in that the float did not feature Santa's mystical sleigh, instead being a basic float with an over-sized, decorated Christmas tree. Surrounding Santa, who stood merrily below the tree, where many of his elves and North Pole friends.
The fifth edition of the annual New York holiday street fair brought not only the Parade's signature balloons, but another float based on Old Saint Nick's Christmas Eve trip around the globe. This float featured a miniature brick house with illuminated windows, with two decorative trees near the entrance of the house. Upon the housetop, Santa emerges from a chimney bellowing with smoke, just after finishing another successful toy delivery.
A new Santa's Sleigh float was built for the 1929 Parade. The float featured making his way through a snowy night, with pine trees decorated ever-so delicately around him. At the rear of the float, a large inflatable sphere that read "Merry Christmas from Macy's" represented Santa's enormous bag of toys, which he would deliver one-by-one on Christmas Eve. Akin to its previous incarnations, the float was retired after its maiden voyage.
The seventh annual Macy's Christmas Parade kicked off with a brisk November chill and snow flurries and ended with another brand-new Santa's Sleigh float. The float deviated from the previous incarnations, as Santa rode in a basket below a large inflatable dirigible, as a nod to Goodyear and its airships. When Santa reached 34th Street, the dirigible was untied from the float and released into the skies of New York City, alongside the now-iconic character balloons.
It is unknown what float carried Kris Kringle down the Parade route in 1931, though it is likely that a distinct, separate float was created.
A float depicting Santa's Sleigh was not used in the 1932 Parade. Instead, Santa Claus rode upon the top of a three-sectioned float entitled the "Herald Square Express", which was filled to the bursting point with toys and goodies for the good boys and girls all around the world. This float is notable for it marked the first and only that Santa Claus has ever lead the Parade, as opposed to closing it. The float was retired after its inaugural appearance.
In 1933, Santa road aboard a float which was described as regal. It featured Santa in his sled (a truck disguised as a sled) and was advertised to be pulled along the route by eleven huskies. However, financial issues caused by the Great Depression caused there to only be eight huskies. Santa, with times being what they were, was more than happy to oblige. The float was retired shortly after the same Parade.
Santa received a brand-new float in the 1934 Parade. The float depicted Santa and his whimsical reindeer flying high above the snow-topped regal Victorian-style houses, as he rode in a colossal golden sleigh. Escorting the float down the Parade route, men dressed as toy soldiers waved and smiled to the crowd.
Santa's Sleigh was once again updated for the 1935 Parade, marking it as the largest Santa's Sleigh at that point in Parade history. The float presented Santa Claus as the "King of Christmas", and featured a large, winter-themed castle with a regal throne at the rear, where Santa Claus sat and waved to the many boys and girls along the Parade route. Behind the throne, a large Macy's star emblem adorns a large plywood circle, which capped off the Parade.
In 1936, the 1934 version of Santa's Sleigh returned, and was used until the Parade's second-to-last march before World War II in 1940.
The final Parade before WWII debuted a brand-new float themed to Santa's Christmas Eve journey around the world. Eight dancing and prancing reindeer prepare for take-off on a mountain of snow as Santa sits comfortably in his sleigh atop an ice and snow-covered mountain.
After World War II had ended in May of 1945, the Parade team decided that a new Santa's Sleigh float would help Americans gain a sense of normalcy after the war-stricken times. The float featured eight identically-sculpted reindeer, reused from the previous incarnation, landing upon a snow-covered rooftop, eager to deliver toys. Instead of sitting in his sleigh as he normally would, Santa appeared popping out of a chimney at the rear of the float.
For the 1946 parade, the 1934 float returned to the lineup, now billowing smoke from the house's chimney. This appearance is notable for it featured actor Ed Wynn as Santa Claus. It would later be revealed that this was in order to film scenes for the 1947 film, Miracle on 34th Street, which would help launch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade into popular culture. After this appearance, the float was permanently retired from the line of march.
A new Santa's Sleigh float debuted in 1947 and was much smaller in scale compared to its predecessors. Akin to previous Santa's Sleigh floats, the float featured Santa and his eight magical flying reindeer soaring through a valley of ice and snow. Behind the man in the red suit are two evergreen trees on either side of the float, in addition to a chimney-like structure that bellowed smoke as it made its way down the Parade route. This float was retired after its inaugural appearance.
The 1948 Parade brought with it a new floating platform to feature the superstar of the Parade, Santa Claus. The float featured Santa in a velvet-red sleigh, accented with yellow and silver garland. Pulling the sleigh are eight golden reindeer with red antlers which prance and dance with the help on an animated feature on the float. Surrounding the float are decorated trees and figures of Santa's elf helpers, who helped create the toys that are shown to be overflowing a chimney on the back of the float. This float was last included in the line of march in 1952.
In 1954, a new float entitled "Here Comes Santa Clause" debuted as the Parade's grand finale. The float featured Santa sitting atop a snowy hill in his red and gold sleigh, as his eight faithful reindeer prepare for takeoff over a lush and scenic forest, with evergreen trees covered in snow. The float's driving compartment, located at the front of the float, was disguised by a large bundle of over-sized gifts. In 1956, the gifts were replaced with an over-sized rocking horse.
The "Here Comes Santa Clause" float was given a refurbishment for the 1957 Parade. The concealed driving compartment on the front of the float was removed, now opting for a basic truck. The snow-covered forest was turned into a lush forest decorated with golden trees, and the reindeer were painted with colors of bronze, silver, and gold. This float's final appearance was in 1958.
In 1959, Santa received a new float. The float was very long and slender in appearance, featuring Santa's eight magical flying reindeer as they sweep across the tops of houses on his Christmas Eve mission. A new addition was a banner reading "Macy's Welcomes Santa", which was carried by women who were traditionally dressed as soldiers. The float was retired after the 1959 Parade.
A much larger float of Santa's Sleigh debuted in the 1960 Parade. The float showcased Santa, now only joined by two sculpted reindeer, waving and blowing kisses to the crowd. At the rear of the float, a large Christmas tree decked with snow and topped with a dazzling golden star carried Macy's employees dressed as Santa's elves. The float was reworked for 1961's parade, adding four more reindeer for a new total of six. This float was retired shortly after the 1963 Parade.
In 1964, the Parade team designed and crafted the grandest Santa's Sleigh float yet. It was very similar to the 1940s version of the float, albeit on a larger scale. The rear of the float also gained the facade of Santa's Workshop in the North Pole, where the elves were busy at work making the year's order of toys. The float was retired shortly after the 1967 Parade.
A new float, similar to that of the 1950s float, made its debut in the 1968 Parade. The float featured Santa, as always, as he travels the world with his eight trusty and magical reindeer in a golden sleigh. Peppermint pinwheels gave the float a sense of animation and movement, and carolers and elves rode upon a large faux Christmas tree at the rear of the float. After only making two appearances, the float was retired after the 1969 Parade.
In 1970, with the Parade Studio team now situated in a permanent warehouse in Hoboken, New Jersey, and under the guise of Manfred Bass, the team would create one of the most detailed and largest floats in Parade history The float featured Santa in an intricately-detailed red and gold sleigh, as he takes off for flight atop his famed toy-making workshop. The workshop was also very detailed, with candles in the windows. giant candy canes, and snow-colored wreaths donning the doors. A sculpture of Frosty the Snowman stood behind the sleigh, sporting a purple top hat and orange-and-yellow-clad scarf. This version would retire in 1971.
In 1972, Frosty was elevated and placed upon a giant chimney, which bellowed smoke as it traveled down the Parade route, and the workshop was replaced with a house. In 1975, Frosty was removed. After six years, the float was retired after the 1977 Parade and the float was donated to charity. The Frosty figure still survives.
The most recognizable and longest-lasting Santa's Sleigh float made its debut in 1978. Santa's Sleigh now took form as a giant snow goose, and eight beautifully-decorated and sculpted flying reindeer. Additionally, Mrs. Claus would appear for the first-ever time alongside her holly hubby. Children dressed as candy canes and Christmas elves escorted the float en route to Herald Square. The float was upgraded in 1988 when a giant Christmas wreath was added behind Santa and his dear Mrs. Overall, the float made 31 consecutive appearances, making it the longest-lasting version of the famous sleigh, and was retired after the 2008 Parade.
A duplicate of the sleigh would appear in Macy's Holiday Parade at Universal Orlando Resort from 2003 until 2016, when it was retired due to the Parade's rebranding. The float was last seen in November of 2017 in the float warehouse, and resides there to this day.
With the debut of the first-ever Macy's Holiday Parade at Universal Orlando Resort in 2002, a new, smaller version of Santa's Sleigh was introduced. The float featured the King of Christmas himself sitting upon a red and golden throne. Accompanying the jolly man in the red suit was a large inflatable Jack-in-the-Box, which was recycled from the recently-retired Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Falloon.
For the first time in over four decades, the Macy's Parade Studio team banded together to create a brand-new Santa's Sleigh float. According to Vice President of Macy's Parade Studio, John Piper, Santa personally told him that he thought it was time for a new float. Depicting Santa’s travel on Christmas Eve, we see good old St. Nick as he leaves the North Pole on his magical journey. The North Pole is showcased by Santa’s Toyshop home and by a giant ice and granite obelisk that is supported by ice sculptures of a Walrus and a Polar Bear. Santa’s Sleigh is a colossal float that measures 60-feet long, 22-feet wide, and is 3 1/2 Stories tall. Former Parade Director, Robin Hall, has stated that the current Santa's Sleigh float was a 19-month-long project. As Santa leaves the North Pole he flies over his home and begins his worldwide voyage sure to make children of all ages believe.
In addition to the new float, a pair of red star-shaped balloons were made, with the logo of Macy's Believe campaign on the front and back of both balloons. This version of the float continues to make appearances as of 2020 and is one of the Parade's oldest floats.
In the re-imagined 2020 parade, the pillar and polar bear on the back of his sleigh was removed.
- Santa's Sleigh is the only float in Parade history that has appeared in all 94 and counting Parades. His float has also had the most design changes, with over 15 made to this day as of 2020.