Santa Claus & Coca-Cola in the Twentieth Century
Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, but no, he was not created by the Coca-Cola Company. The origins of Old Saint Nick first appeared in third century Greece; under Roman rule “Bishop Nicholas suffered for his faith, was exiled and imprisoned” (1). Many folk legends later surfaced regarding Nicholas’ legendary generosity. The feast day of Saint Nicholas is observed in many countries on December 6 (1).
Left: From New York Historical Society Alexander Anderson (1775-1870), St. Nicholas. Dec. 6th. A.D. 343. Printed for the New-York Historical Society, New York: 1810. Reprinted by Alexander Anderson, 1864. Source: https://www.nyhistory.org/web/images/Exhibits_Collections/Exhibits/santa/santa2.jpg
“It Happened Here: The Invention of Santa Claus,” on exhibit now through January 7, 2011 at the New York Historical Society in New York City, highlights the creation of the American vision of Santa Claus. “Clement Clarke Moore…penned a whimsical poem about St. Nicholas” (2), which is retold each holiday season as “A Visit from St. Nicholas.” Moore described the jolly old soul as “dress’d all in fur, from his head to his foot” (3) and continued:
His eyes - how they twinkled! his dimples how merry,
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry;
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow (3).
Thomas Nast “Merry Christmas.” January 4, 1879
Later in the century “Thomas Nast’s Harper’s Weekly cartoons of Santa”(2) would further mold the American image of Saint Nicholas. In the early 1920’s, beloved illustrator, Norman Rockwell’s saintly version of Santa appeared on covers of the Saturday Evening Post.
Haddon Sundblom (circa. 1931). Santa Claus and his Coca-cola.
So where does the connection between Santa and Coca-Cola come in? According to the Coca-Cola Company Web site, at the beginning of the Twentieth Century, people tended to think of Coca-Cola as a warm weather drink. In order to change the product’s image, a campaign was launched to let everyone know “that Coca-Cola was a great choice in any month” (4). Fred Mizen was the first illustrator to depict jolly old St. Nick for Coca-Cola in 1930, but in 1931 the firm “commissioned Michigan-born illustrator Haddon Sundblom to develop advertising images using Santa Claus”(4). Using Moore’s poem as inspiration “For the next 33 years, Sundblom painted portraits of Santa that helped to create the modern image of Santa“ (4).
Who was Haddon Sundblom?
Illustrator Haddon “Sunny” Sundblom, was over six feet tall and struck an imposing looking figure. Prior to rendering his Coca-Cola Santa advertisments, he specialized in creating images of “wholesome, sexy young women” (5) enjoying Coca-Cola. Sundblom’s work influenced many pin-up artists of the forties and fifties. Another of Sundblom’s iconic advertising images is the Quaker Oats Man, created 1957 (6). The artist’s last magazine cover was published in 1972, a sexy pin-up style Miss Claus for Playboy’s Christmas Issue. Sundblom died in 1976 (7).
Haddon Sundblom. Playboy Cover, December 1972.
Source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/5/5b/ Playboy_magazine_ december_1972_cover.jpg/200px-Playboy_magazine_december_1972_cover.jpg
Design & Desire would like to thank all its readers for their support and wish you all a joyous holiday season with best wishes for the coming year.
1. Who is St. Nicholas? http://www.stnicholascenter.org/Brix?pageID=38
2. It Happened Here: The Invention of Santa Claus. New York Historical Society. https://www.nyhistory.org/web/default.php?section=exhibits_collections&page=exhibit_detail&id=6101893
3. Variations 1823-1844, Troy Sentinel, Tuesday, December 23, 1823. http://iment.com/maida//familytree/henry/xmas/poemvariants/troysentinel1823.htm
4. Coke Lore: Coca-Cola® and Santa Claus. http://www.thecoca-colacompany.com/heritage/cokelore_santa.html
5. HaddonSundblom. http://www.mutoworld.com/Sundblom.htm
6. Quaker Oats: Reference. http://www.thefullwiki.org/Quaker_Oats
7. Haddon Sundblom. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haddon_Sundblom
For Further Reading
Haskell, R.B. (2006). The True Story of Saint Nicholas. Alan C. Hood & Co.
Moore, C. C. (1912). Twas the Night Before Christmas: A Visit from St. Nicholas. New York: Houghton Mifflin
Santa Claus Picture. (2010). Holiday Decorations. http://www.holidaydecorations.com/Santa-Claus-Picture.html
Sundblom, H. Fahs Charles, B. & Taylor, J. R. (1997). Dream of Santa: Haddon Sundblom’s Advertising Paintings for Christmas, 1931–1964. Random House.