The modern image of Santa Claus was created by the Coca-Cola Company.
Collected via Twitchell, 2000
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 (
Although we can identify some of the most influential sources who contributed to the formation of the modern Santa Claus figure (such as writers Washington Irving and Clement Clarke Moore, historian John Pintard, and illustrator Thomas Nast) no single person or institution can lay claim to having created him. Nonetheless, we humans 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 instead many of us have clung to the more satisfying, pat (and somewhat cynical) explanation that the modern appearance of Santa Claus was a commercial creation of the
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 character traditionally associated with Christmas. However, it is not true in any realistic sense that Coca-Cola “created” the modern Santa Claus: they did not invent the now-familiar rotund, bearded fellow clothed in red-and-white garb, nor did they pluck him from a pantheon of competing, visually different Christmastime figures and elevate him to the supreme symbol of Christmas gift-giving. The red-and-white Santa figure existed long before
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 (inspired in large part by Clement Clark Moore’s 1822 poem “A Visit from
However, illustrations of lavishly bearded Santas (and his predecessors), showing figures clothed in red suits and red hats with white fur trimming, held together with broad black belts, were common long before
There was a period of overlap during which the modern Santa Claus character coexisted with other Christmas figures and other versions of himself, as his now-standard appearance and persona jelled and his character grew in popularity to become the dominant (secular) Christmas figure in the western world. However, that period had ended before
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
Coke’s annual advertisements featuring Sundblom-drawn Santas holding bottles of
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