The Santa Claus we all know as a big, jolly man in the red suit with a white beard who brings presents and joy to the children over the world. Did he always look like that? In fact, he looked different before 1931 year and here is the story.
Santa Claus and His History
Story of Santa Claus, otherwise known as Saint Nicholas or Kris Kringle dates back to third century, when Saint Nicholas, bishop of Myra, a small Roman town in modern Turkey, walked the earth and became the patron saint of children. It is told that he gave away all of his inherited wealth and traveled the countryside helping the poor and sick. Once he saved three poor sisters from being sold into slavery, therefore he became known as protector of children.
280 B. C
A religious icon representing St. Nicholas.Photograph by Hemis / Alamy
Santa Claus Coming to America
St. Nicholas made his first inroads into American popular culture towards the end of the 18th century, when Dutch families had gathered to honor the anniversary of his death in 6th of December. But in early America Christmas wasn’t much like the modern holiday. It was celebrated as a kind of outdoor, alcohol-fueled, rowdy community blowout. Everything changed in the beginning of 19th century, thanks to several who strove to make Christmas a family celebration—by reviving and remaking St. Nicholas.
Washington Irving, with his pipe-smoking Nicholas soaring over the rooftops in a flying wagon, delivering presents to good girls and boys and switches to bad ones, Clement Clarke Moore with jolly Santa riding a sleigh driven by eight familiar reindeer and Thomas Nast with jolly, chubby, grandfatherly face of Santa, gave base of the new image of Santa.
Merry old Santa Claus, Thomas NastIllustration by Thomas Nast, North Wind Picture Archives / Alamy
Santa Claus in Coke Ads
The Coca-Cola Company began its Christmas advertising in the 1920s with ads in magazines like The Saturday Evening Post. The first Santa ads used a strict-looking Claus, like was described by Thomas Nast.
In 1930, artist Fred Mizen painted a department-store Santa in a crowd drinking a bottle of Coke. The ad featured the world’s largest soda fountain, which was located in the department store Famous Barr Co. in St. Louis, Mo. Mizen’s painting was used in print ads that Christmas season, appearing in The Saturday Evening Post in December 1930.
1931 Year and The New Shape of Santa Clause Image
In 1931, Coca-Cola commissioned illustrator Haddon Sundblom to paint Santa for Christmas advertisements. Those paintings established Santa as a warm, happy character with human features, including rosy cheeks, a white beard, twinkling eyes and laughter lines. Sundblom drew inspiration from an 1822 poem by Clement Clark Moore called “A Visit from St. Nicholas” —commonly known as “Twas the Night Before Christmas.”
Haddon Sundblom’s first Coca-Cola Santa Claus campaign from 1931.
Sundblom created his final version of Santa Claus in 1964, but for several decades to follow, Coca-Cola advertising featured images of Santa based on Sundblom’s original works. These paintings are some of the most prized pieces in the art collection in the company’s archives department.
Despite of different names, looks and stories of Santa Clause over the world, for many people he is the jolly man in red suit from the Coca-Cola advertisement.