Christmas is here again, with the winters warmed up by bright lights, hot food, presents and a jolly old man in a red suit ever-present to spread the holiday cheer.
Coca Cola and the story behind how the modern-day Santa Claus came into being
What many do not know is that the modern-day Santa Claus is a very recent invention by one of the largest conglomerates in the world.
According to the Coca-Cola company’s official blog, before the 1920s, Santa took various forms from a tall man to an unpleasant elf. The Santa of yesteryears even wore an animal skin and a bishop’s robe.
In 1923, the Coca-Cola Company got an artist to paint an early version of Santa Claus. The company did not find this Santa Claus as heart-warming as expected.
The company’s advertising account executive Archie Lee set to create a more wholesome and lovable version of Santa Claus. Enter artist Haddon Sundblom, who was commissioned by Coke in 1931 to paint a Santa Claus for their on-going “Thirst knows no season” advertising campaign.
Sundblom was turned to Clement Clark Moore’s 1822 poem “A Visit From St. Nicholas” (commonly called “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”) whose vivid imagery was translated to oil-paintings by Sundblom.
The Santa on Sundblom’s canvas captured the public imagination so fiercely, that he continued to render Santa till 1964. His paintings of Santa with a glass of Coke were published in The Saturday Evening Post, The Ladies Home Journal, National Geographic, The New Yorker and other publications.
The ubiquity of Sundblom’s Santa was cemented as Coca-Cola continued to spread the image of the jolly Santa on store displays, billboards, posters, calendars and plush dolls. Santa is seen handing out toys, entering houses to a bottle of chilled coke, visiting children who stayed to meet him, which make for many popular collectibles
Sundblom used his neighbours as models for the Santa ads. For a long while, his neighbor Lou Prentiss was the model till his death after which Sundbloom began to pose himself. By this time, the ruddy-cheeked jolly old man with his silver beard was so popular among the people of the United States that Santa developed a small following of observant fans.
For example, they noticed the time when Santa’s belt buckle was strapped in the wrong direction, (a possible mistake as Sundblom was painting with the help of a mirror) or the time when fans asked, “What happened to Mrs.Claus?” when Sundblom did not paint Santa’s wedding ring.
The art world recognised Sundblom’s contribution, with many of his prominent works from Coca Cola’s art collection having been featured in world-famous art galleries including the Louvre in Paris, the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, the Isetan Department Store in Tokyo, and the NK Department Store in Stockholm.
Very rarely does an idea go beyond the proprietary rights of a single company, for the benefit of humanity. Such is the case with Santa Claus, as Coca-Cola realised that the festive season needs him present in every nook and corner, and in the hearts of all.