Organisers of a Nelson Christmas parade have apologised after a non-traditional Santa Claus took centre sleigh, confusing onlookers and sparking a backlash.

Yesterday, a Santa Claus donning a red korowai and holding a taiaha featured in the parade festivities sans trademark hat, beard, and suit.

One spectator filmed the float glide past on Trafalgar St but told the Herald she "never realised it was Santa".

"I'm 75 years old today as well lol. Tricked at my age. How's that."

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The Santa Parade Trust today issued an apology to those upset by the event.

Event Director Mark Soper said they were truly sorry that the parade did not live up to expectations, and were "saddened to hear so many people were disappointed".

"We definitely have learnt a lot from this, and hope to build on the multi-cultural elements, with more cultural groups participating in the next parade.

"Regardless, next year will see a return of a traditional Santa Claus."

In a statement Nelson City Council (NCC) noted that while they provided a funding grant to assist the Santa Parade Trust, NCC had no influence on the organisation of the event.

"While NCC appreciates what the Santa Parade organisers were trying to achieve, they have met with them to pass on the feedback received from the community.

"This feedback will be taken into account for future events."

Since the parade elected members and NCC staff had been the target of significant abuse, the statement said.

"This is not okay, regardless of people's viewpoint, sending abusive messages and targeting people who had no input into decisions or organising the event is unacceptable, and not in the spirit of Christmas."

Neville Baker, who was initially dismissed as Santa from Auckland's Christmas Parade after he made what organisers labelled "inappropriate" comments, told Mike Hosking Santa should not split from tradition.

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Baker was reinstated in the nick of time to reprise the role he had held for the past five years.

Auckland Santa Neville Baker says Santa shouldn't stray from tradition. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Auckland Santa Neville Baker says Santa shouldn't stray from tradition. Photo / Jason Oxenham

Baker said that children really just wanted to see a man in a red suit with a beard.

"I don't think I've ever come across a Santa Claus character that hasn't had the beard so if that part is missing, Santa isn't quite complete.

"That's what people expect. That's the picture that has been painted. That's what people come to see."