How Coca-Cola Stole Santa Claus
I am writing this artical because I wanted correct the couple I overheard in conversation yesterday, one asked the other “why do we have Farther Christmas?” and the other said “I dunno, didn’t Coca-Cola invent him!?”. Now apart from spitting in to my coffee I didn’t have all the answers to start interrupting them and acting like a “dick”. I Then realised I really had no idea about the origins of Santa Claus or why/how Coca-Cola have come to adopt such an iconic festive character in their advertising. So, here is my answer to the rhetorical question “didn’t Coca-Cola invent Farther Christmas, Santa Claus, Chris Kringle… other names are available!”
In order to really get to the bottom of this we need to start at the beginning, or the 4th century to be more precise. A wealthy and well respected Bishop (sorry, name unknown) living in the now Turkish region of eastern Europe, is said to have given gifts to those who followed and beveled in his “miracle” workings, he later became a siant for his charity to the poor and needy. The memory of bishop was sanctified a century after his death as Nikolaos of Myra, (English translation “Victory of the People”), thus becoming Saint-Nicholas. St. Nicholas was adopted by many areas of Northern Europe, Russia, Germany, Belgium, Poland, and the Netherlands. These regions celebrated St. Nicholas day (the day he was killed by the Roman emperor Theodosius) on the 5th and 6th of December, according to the Christian calendar.
After the discovery of America in 1492 immigrants from Europe started to bring their traditions to parts of New World. The Dutch communities used the non-English tradition of St. Nicholas after the American Revolution, particularly in New Amsterdam (New York), the concept of a jolly old man giving gifts and bringing happiness to children became widely accepted. In 1822 the American poet Clement Clark Moore wrote the famous poem “Twas the Night Before Christmas” (also called “A Visit from St. Nicholas“), the poem characterised St. Nicholas as Santa Claus, which burned the modern image of him in to popular culture.
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot, And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot. A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back, And he looked like a peddler, just opening his pack. 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.
The 1863 3rd of January edition of Harper’s Weekly magazine depicted the first American rendition of Santa Claus, illustrated by Artist Thomas Nast. Inspired by the Clement Clarke Moore poem, Nast drew Santa Claus waring the stars and stripes with a red, white and blue suit, instead of the traditional green. The addition of Harper’s Weekly shows Santa Claus visiting a Civil War Camp and handing out gifts to children and soldiers.
However it wasn’t until 1933 when illustrator Haddon Sundblom created the “modern” concept of Santa Claus for Coca-Cola’s Christmas advertising campaign. Coke used the image of the chubby, jolly old bearded Santa as an icon to promote “festive cheer” with its product and increase its low profits during the winter seasons. Its Coca-Cola who branded Santa in the red suit which has become the standard image accepted all around the world today.
Although we could think negatively about the advertising “cannibalism” of such a historic and iconic festive character, its Coca-Cola’s branding success that needs to be acknowledged as historically significant. You may feel slightly cheated next time you see a jolly old Santa. As though you’ve been infected by a global corporation, brain washing you to drink more of a popular soft drink (and you’ll be right)…
However its appears to me that after discovering just a little about the origins of Santa Claus, Coca-Cola cannot be held entirely responsible for creating him, the modern depiction perhaps, but its clear that Farther Christmas, Santa Claus and Chris Kringle have been at the root of western culture for centuries. Its the “influence of popularity” which shapes the way we think, feel and remember iconic characters and objects. Advertising is aware of this power to direct, influence and change opinion, because it appeals to the very core of popular culture.
Knowing that we’re lied to or given an exaggeration of the truth by our own cultural icons, I believe its this awareness (realizing we’re influenced by media) that dilutes the magic of Christmas cheer. So when you’re opening your presents Christmas morning, expecting to find that “thing” you always wanted, try to forget that adverting told you, you wanted it, remember that ignorance is bliss and say “aw honey how did you know” (well, at least until the New Year). Merry Christmas Everyone!