In 1950, Santa Claus was banned from the Reading Christmas parade. Not that the city didn’t believe in Santa. But the parade sponsors, the young men of the Reading, Pennsylvania, Junior Chamber of Commerce, also known as the Jaycees, wanted the observance to be in the “real spirit of Christmas – with no commercialization.”
The chamber invited 75 churches in the area to do something about the situation by preparing religious floats. Business firms were not included in the parade. Rules required that all floats develop a Christmas theme of a religious nature and that their maximum cost, exclusive of donations, be $100.
The night of Friday, December 8, was chosen for the parade. As planned, on this night stores in the downtown area were not open, and on this night the special Christmas lighting on Penn Street and of the Community Christmas Tree was to be formally turned on. Everything possible was done to eliminate or discourage the commercial aspects normally associated with a parade, and in this regard the Jaycees were reasonably successful.
At 7:00 p. m. the event which was destined to focus the countrywide spotlight on Reading got under way. The floats of 25 churches, intermingled with 10 musical organizations, moved slowly and reverently out North 9th Street from Elm to Penn Street, down Penn, and through the Square to 4th Street, where the units disbanded. Approximately 25,000 persons stood silently viewing the parade, which was headed by the Albright College Band playing “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem.” Reflecting the concern of the troubled times, they watched in all humility the promise of the Prince of Peace unfold, as each float graphically illustrated its part of the greatest story ever told: the Annunciation, the Nativity, the Shepherds Watching their Flock by Night, No Room at the Inn, and, in grim reality, a scene depicting Angels turned in prayer towards a replica of the world beneath which rested the single word “PEACE.”
By 8:00 p. m. the parade was over. But its spell refused to be broken. Thousands of spectators assembled at the Penn Square reviewing stand and listened appreciatively to the Leo-Hydian Glee Club of Birdsboro, conducted by Carl Derr and accompanied by the Reading High School Orchestra, present a program of Yuletide songs. Following this, the Square became a gigantic cathedral with thousands of voices lifted in praise of Christ as Fred Cardin led the entire assembly in the singing of carols.
That the Jaycees had indeed helped put Christ back into Christmas – and into the hearts of many – was obvious to all who attended that memorable occasion. But like the original message of 2,000 years ago, this revived call to Christ also knew no boundaries. Before many days had passed, phone calls, telegrams, and letters began arriving. The United Press had picked up the story of the town that had banned Santa Claus from its parade, and from every point of the compass came messages of congratulations and praise for the objective of the project. From Iowa, New York, Oregon, Ohio, Indiana, Washington, Alaska, and Quebec – from wherever news of the parade had been received either by newspaper, radio, or wire-service – messages of congratulations poured in. Apparently the Jaycees had fulfilled the ambitions of millions of true Christians who for so long had witnessed the majesty and true meaning of the very birth of their faith become tarnished by or hidden beneath the veneer of commercialism.