The man behind the Farmers Santa Parade floats

The Farmers Santa Parade has long been an iconic symbol that signals the start of the New Zealand other incredible floats that have been intricately designed, planned, and orchestrated by Peter Taylor, the man behind the floats since 1972.

Many marvellous creations have sprung to life from the hands of Taylor. He has spent decades designing and building the floats before they make their way down Auckland’s Queen St in late November each year. His skill ranges from reviving old favourites such as the Fairy Queen float and Santa’s Workshop to dreaming up new floats that get bigger and more impressive each year.

The Farmers Santa Parade started as an extension of Farmers’ intricate seasonal window displays. The first parade was launched in 1934, lead by carts of characters from storybooks and nursery rhymes. The characters in question changed and evolved as the audience grew up and brought their own children to the parade.

Several decades after the parade began, a young Taylor began working in Farmers’ display department, and was sent for some experience building the floats. He quickly became involved permanently, proving to have a keen eye for design time and time again.

Peter Taylor

“Way back in the day, I used to sit down and draw 25-30 designs,” says Taylor. “They were all based on fairytale and nursery rhymes. In those days, the Farmers executives took a real hand on approach, and they’d take those drawings and lay them out in a parade formation and just pick the ones that they wanted.”

Over the course of 85 years the parade has continued to evolve, now including over 200 items, including huge inflatables, bands, entertainers and 37 floats which businesses can all get involved with in different ways, from sponsorship to even volunteering alongside the event.

“The floats have changed a lot, it’s now a lot more about what is topical these days. We don’t make nearly as many floats, but what we do make is more structurally sound. They’re made out of polystyrene and fiberglass, so the floats now should last about five to 10 years. In the old days, after each parade, every float was scrapped.”

Now, the designs go from sketch to scale models where clients and sponsors can have something tangible and be involved with the floats’ design through every step. This means businesses involved with the event have many opportunities along the way to participate. Ideas are thrown around from January, as implementation of the floats needs to start early enough to get them completed for that year’s parade.

“Following the ideas, I’ll do a sketch on what I expect it to look like. If they like it, I’ll then do a scale model. For the last 10 or 15 years I’ve done a 3D display scale model of the floats, which helps in the making of it. That way you can see what it’s going to look like rather than just a sketch which doesn’t always give you the full idea of it.”

As pop culture has evolved, so have the floats. With the more recent ones including the likes of Willy Wonka, steampunk and dinosaurs, the new generation of crowd favourites is reflected in their content.

Peter Taylor (photo credit: North and South)

Even now that the floats have more longevity and are safer, Taylor finds scrapping a favourite float to make way for a brand new one is bittersweet. He’s had many favourites over the years, including an “old hippie float” called Flower Power and one named Children of the World.

“A good old one which has been around for a while is Santa’s Workshop, it has a mechanism part that moves up and down on it. Santa’s float is always a bit of a favourite too.”

With a line-up that includes old favourites and new creations such as the Nutcracker, spectators this year can also look forward to an impressive tyrannosaurus rex float, which is expected to sit five metres high on a nine-metre trailer.

Unbeknown to most, the floats are stored in a 1300 square metre basement located underneath the bright yellow Golf Warehouse in Newton when not in use.

Merran Greenhalgh, a volunteer who has been involved with the parade for over 15 years, says extracting the floats is an art in itself that can take up to six hours.

“We start at about 5:30 in the morning, and we usually have things going from about 11am. It is a bit quicker at the end of the day because we’re just running everything back in, we’re not quite so concerned with the order.”

The floats follow the progression in a pre-planned order, with volunteers tracking alongside keeping an eye on the event to make sure all goes to plan; moving mechanisms, children, balloons, actors and spectators mean the volunteers never have a dull moment.

The parade has a flawless record of safety. Taylor says improving safety procedures is an ongoing focus that’s updated each year.

“We’re out there with the public and the wind and we don’t want a disaster or to hurt anyone; which thankfully hasn’t happened in all the years it’s been going.”

Greenhalgh’s whole family has volunteered for the better part of 30 years. This followed her father’s involvement alongside Farmers Santa Parade management company Crackerjack Events, which resulted in him becoming a fleet controller for the parade.

“Dad came home with fun stories every year, and so we really wanted to be a part of it. Then having done it for several years we just wanted to keep helping. It’s such a great event, such a nice day. Peter and his team have always been so incredible, and you really just want to do the most you can to help out.”

She says Taylor and his team’s dedication to making each year perfect has kept the parade running smoothly, as well as increased the number of spectators and volunteers that want to be involved each year. Over 500 people assist with behind the scenes and 1500 dress up in costume.

“Peter has an incredible vision each year for the floats that he puts together, and he has a very infectious personality when you’re working alongside him in the warehouse. He takes great pride in making every existing float and every new float perfect… The team have always worked so hard to make everything new every year…it’s such an amazing event for kids.”

A positive attitude is necessary for Christmas all year around, and Taylor says the support of the sponsors that get involved from businesses helps keep things moving.

“I’ve been to so many parades and there is always the unwavering excitement of little kids and the parents who bring them along, it’s just an exciting day. It can be quite stressful for us who are involved with it, because we want to put on the best show and we want to make sure things go smoothly; but there is an excitement with it as well.”

Taylor is certain the 85th annual Santa Parade will be one to remember.

“I just like to focus on the floats and do the best I can, but no doubt there will be something extra to celebrate the 85th anniversary. It’s going to be exciting but all we can hope for is a nice sunny day, and everything will go great out there.”  

The creation of these iconic floats could not be implemented year after year without the support and funding from sponsors. As thousands line the streets to view these masterpieces, there is ample opportunity for your business to be included and participate in one of Auckland’s most anticipated days of the summer.

To find out more about how your business can be involved with the Farmers Santa Parade in its 85th year, or how to volunteer on the day, contact:

Pam Glaser
General Manager
Farmers Santa Parade
[email protected].

Mob: 0274 599 634

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This story is part of a content partnership with Farmers Santa Parade.                   

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