The modern image of Santa Claus was created by the Coca-Cola
Example: [Twitchell, 2000]
The jolly old St. Nick that we know from countless images did not come from folklore, nor did he originate in the imaginations of Moore and Nast. He comes from the yearly advertisements of the Coca-Cola Company. He wears the corporate colors — the famous red and white — for a reason: he is working out of Atlanta, not out of the North Pole.
Among the pantheon of characters commonly associated with the Christmas season (both the religious holiday and the secular wintertime celebrations), the beloved persona of Santa Claus is somewhat distinctive in that his appearance is neither one that has been solidified through centuries of religious tradition nor one that sprang fully-formed from the imagination of a modern-day writer or artist. Santa Claus is instead a hybrid, a character descended from a religious figure (St. Nicholas
) whose physical appearance and backstory were created and shaped by many different hands over the course of years until he finally coalesced into the now familiar (secular) character of a jolly, rotund, red-and-white garbed father figure who oversees a North Pole workshop manned by elves and travels in a sleigh pulled by eight reindeer to deliver toys to children all around the world every Christmas Eve. (Among the many persons who had a hand in creating the modern Santa Claus figure, some of the most influential were writers
Washington Irving and Clement Clarke Moore, historian John Pintard, and illustrator Thomas Nast.)
However, we as human beings prefer definitive answers: We want details about time, place, and source and tend to eschew ambiguous, indefinite, open-ended explanations. We don't find satisfying the notion that Santa Claus is an evolutionary figure with no single, identifiable point of origin, so we instead have created and clung to a more satisfying, pat explanation: The modern appearance of Santa Claus was a commercial creation of the Coca-Cola company, who cannily promoted a version of Santa garbed in their red-and-white corporate colors.
It is true that, since Santa Claus is an evolutionary figure, he did not suddenly appear fully-formed one day and immediately supplant every other similar character traditionally associated with Christmas — there
was a period of overlap during which the modern Santa Claus character coexisted with other Christmas figures and other versions of himself, while his (now standard) appearance and persona jelled and his character grew in popularity to become the dominant (secular) Christmas figure in the western world. And it is true at the beginning of the 1930s, as the burgeoning Coca-Cola company was looking for ways to increase sales of their product during winter (then a slow time of year for the soft drink market), they turned to a talented commercial illustrator named Haddon Sundblom, who created a series of memorable drawings that associated the figure of a larger than life, red-and-white garbed Santa Claus with Coca-Cola, such as the following:
However, the modern version of Santa Claus was not created by Coca-Cola
; Sundblom's illustrations were based upon what had already become the standard image of Santa, as noted in a New York Times
article published in 1927, four years before
the appearance of Sundblom's first Santa-based Coca-Cola
A standardized Santa Claus appears to New York children. Height, weight, stature are almost exactly standardized, as are the red garments, the hood and the white whiskers. The pack full of toys, ruddy cheeks and nose, bushy eyebrows and a jolly, paunchy effect are also inevitable parts of the requisite make-up.
Illustrations of lavishly bearded Santas (and his predecessors), showing figures clothed in red suits (and hats) with white fur trimming, held together with broad black belts, were also common long before Coca-Cola's first Santa Claus advertisement appeared, as evidenced by these examples from 1906, 1908, and 1925, respectively:
All this isn't to say that Coca-Cola didn't have anything
to do with cementing the modern image of Santa Claus in the public consciousness. Coke's annual advertisements featuring Sundblom-drawn Santas holding bottles of Coca-Cola, drinking Coca-Cola, receiving Coca-Cola as gifts, and enjoying Coca-Cola became a perennial Christmastime feature which helped spur Coca-Cola
sales throughout the winter (and produced the bonus effect of appealing quite strongly to children, an important segment of the soft drink market). In an era before the advent of television, before color motion pictures became common, and before the widespread use of color in newspapers, Coca-Cola's
magazine advertisements, billboards, and point-of-sale store displays were for many Americans their primary exposure to the modern Santa Claus image.
18 December 2008
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