From humble beginnings in 1933, the National Pharmacies Christmas Pageant is a magical, free community event, full of fantasy, floats, colourful characters, bands, dancers and more, shared by generations of Australians.
In 1896, Mr Edward Waterfield Hayward - then owner of the John Martin & Company Limited, established the 'Magic Cave'. It was a Christmas fantasy world, to support children's cultural heritage and provide a joyful community Christmas experience.
The first Christmas Pageant was held during the Great Depression in 1933, some thirty-seven years after the creation of the Magic Cave. The Christmas Pageant escorted Father Christmas to the Magic Cave. Created by Sir Edward Hayward (Mr Bill), who was the grandson of Mr E. W. Hayward; the Pageant featured approximately eight floats, four bands and ran for around 40 minutes. 200,000 spectators came to watch the Pageant.
The Pageant encouraged the development of artists, with a team of artists, carpenters, wardrobe designers and mechanics all involved in the Pageant.
The Pageant tradition has continued since then, sharing the magic of Christmas with different generations of children. Explore the history of the Pageant by viewing the timeline below.
The ‘Magic Cave’ – a Christmas fantasy world was established.
The first Christmas Pageant was held during the Great Depression. Created by Sir Edward Hayward (Mr Bill), it featured approximately eight floats, four bands and 200,000 spectators. It ran for around 40 minutes. All participants were staff at John Martins. The Pageant ran from Angas Street to John Martins on Rundle Street. Some of the first costumes were made of crepe paper. Father Christmas first appeared in the Pageant in 1933 and Pageant designers were employed. Ever since, Father Christmas has been delivered by the Pageant to the Magic Cave.
The Pageant began acknowledging Australian stories and icons. The Pageant first included a Lord Mayor’s Christmas appeal float to raise money and encourage donations for underprivileged children.
It was decided that new floats and sets would be added each year.
Pageant Queen first introduced for wartime fundraising.
There was no Christmas Pageant due to World War II.
Victory Christmas Pageant – celebrating the end of World War II. First Radio broadcast, which continued to 1959.
The Lord Mayor initiates a party for 800 orphans, where Father Christmas can visit them. This became an annual event.
The Pageant Queen annual tradition commences.
Sir Edward Hayward selected the Pageant Queens.
The floats assembled at South Terrace and travelled along King William Street, arriving at the North Terrace entrance to John Martins.
The Pageant Queen began being selected via store staff in a democratic system.
1960 was the wettest year ever – the Pageant was nearly cancelled!
Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies attended the Pageant: to date, the only time in Pageant history.
Crowds grew to 500,000 as television broadcasting and interstate broadcasting became a great influence.
16 new floats were introduced.
The Golden Pageant – 50 years. Just weeks before the Pageant’s anniversary, its creator, Sir Edward Hayward, passed away.
The State Bank of South Australia entered into partnership with John Martins to present the Pageant.
The tradition of chalk drawing on the streets to keep the kids entertained prior to the start of the Pageant.
Pageant characters comprised half John Martins and half State Bank staff.
The Pageant celebrated its diamond anniversary of 60 years, with 72 sets, 1600 people taking part and a crowd of 400,000 people.
John Martins sold the Pageant to the State Government of South Australia. The Pageant is now owned by Events South Australia (formerly Australian Major Events), a division of the South Australian Tourism Commission and the naming rights sponsors are the four leading South Australian credit unions; People’s Choice, Beyond Bank Australia, Credit Union SA, Police Credit Union with additional assistance from the Adelaide City Council, David Jones and the many volunteers and other supporters involved. The credit unions maintain the Pageant Queen tradition, using the Queen and the Princesses to spread the Pageant magic and Christmas cheer to regional areas.
2002 was the Credit Union Christmas Pageant’s 70th year. A new Pageant manager and creative director, Brian Gilbertson was appointed – only the fifth Pageant director and manager since the Pageant began.
The first female artist, Jill Halliday, was appointed to create a float.
The First Black and White Float was featured in the Pageant.
Credit Union information sites made their first appearance at the Pageant.
The Pageant celebrated 75 years of Pageant magic! 75 tap dancers led the parade – a Pageant first.
An attempt for the Guinness World Record was made for the largest Mexican wave to celebrate the event’s theme of community.
For the first time, a Credit Union Christmas Pageant King and four Princes joined the Queen and Princesses to create the Pageant Royal Family and spread Pageant magic across South Australia.
A second attempt was made at the Guinness World Record for the largest Mexican Wave. The wave travelled for 3.2 kilometres through the city around 7 corners but fell short of the numbers required.
The Credit Union Christmas Pageant Facebook page and free iPhone App were launched.
The Pageant audience broke the Guinness World Record for the largest group of Carol Singers.
Junior royals added to the Credit Union Christmas Pageant Royal Family through a talent competition.
A Guinness World Record for the largest gathering of people wearing red noses was achieved.
Pop star Samantha Jade became the first national celebrity to sing the Australian anthem at the start of the Pageant.
In 2014, the Credit Union Christmas Pageant celebrated the theme of 'Share the Pageant With Someone You Love'. For the first time, the event held a national competition to bring a Pageant fan's expat family to Adelaide to see the event, thanks to Tiger Air Australia.
Post event concert on the North Terrace landing stage and national live broadcast.
In 2016 the credit unions celebrated 21 years as the event's naming rights sponsor - an amazing achievement!
The 85th Anniversary of the Pageant, and the Credit Union's 22nd year as Naming Rights sponsor
The 2018 event celebrated 23 years of the credit unions as the naming rights partner of the Credit Union Christmas Pageant whilst the Blue Honour Line turned 60 years old.
From 2019, the event welcomes National Pharmacies as the new naming rights partner with the event now being referred to as the National Pharmacies Christmas Pageant.
For the first time in Pageant history, the National Pharmacies Christmas Pageant was a twilight event at Adelaide Oval as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic which saw major events across the world cancelled.
The National Pharmacies Christmas Pageant was the first major event in South Australia since the pandemic hit. A COVID-safe crowd of 25,000 people was able to attend the event.
There was a 'Pageant at Home' campaign which encouraged South Australians to watch the National Pharmacies Christmas Pageant live on Channel 9, which resulted in being the most watched program in South Australia outside of live sport, beating all other local and national programs.
For the second year in a row, the National Pharmacies Christmas Pageant was held at Adelaide Oval due to the restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic.
35,000 families watched from their seats while hundreds of thousands of people across the country watched live on Channel 9.
We paid special tribute to Olympians and Paralympians who due to COVID-19 didn't get a street parade upon returning to the country, so we celebrated their success and hard work from the Tokyo Olympics.
We celebrated 90 years of the Christmas Pageant back on the streets after two years at Adelaide Oval.
National Pharmacies announced their commitment to the Pageant as naming rights partner for the next decade.