View Full Version : Did the popular image of Santa Claus originate in a Coca-Cola ad campaign?
12-05-2000, 06:13 PM
The modern image of Santa most certainly did come from the Coke advertising. He was made joyful and triumphant by artist Haddon Sundblom (who also used a self portrait for the Quaker Oats man) as part of a Coca-Cola campaign to begin targeting children. Before 1931, Santa still looked like an old scraggly bishop. And although St. Nicholas's coat may have been red, the Coke advertisers began using the official bright cheery Coke red for his image. Santa was just a kind yet scary looking old man before Coke got a hold of him...now he is a jolly old elf. I believe the question was regarding the modern Santa image and not the legend of Santa. So, although Coca-Cola did not invent Santa, they made us want to sit on his lap.
12-05-2000, 07:09 PM
Welcome ot the Straight Dope Message Board, Cindy Lou Who.
Here's a link to the Staff Report. (http://www.straightdope.com/mailbag/msantaclaus.html)
Sounds like a matter of interpretation to me. I mean, I can say that "What's Opera, Doc" featured the first definitive Bugs Bunny, but Bugs existed long before that cartoon. I can say that the "I Want You" Uncle Sam recruitment poster was the first definitive depiction of Uncle Sam, but Sam was around in many guises before that. And Steamboat Willie was definitely Mickey, even though he sure doesn't look the same now.
Check out the analysis (http://www.snopes.com/cokelore/santa.htm) at the Urban Legends Reference Page. They provide substantial evidence that
The jolly, red-and-white garbed Santa Claus figure was already a standard in popular culture years before artist Haddon Sundblom drew his first Santa portrait for Coca-Cola in 1931. Sundblom's drawings merely helped popularize an existing image.
12-05-2000, 07:53 PM
Yes, I agree with everything you've said. My point being that it took a while to find the Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse and Uncle Sam that we all know and love. There was a process of evolution ending with the final popular image. Each of these characters have changed little if at all since.
quote: This isn't to say that Sundblom had nothing to do with the modern Santa Claus, however: the ubiquity and popularity of his paintings and Coca-Cola advertising helped cement the image of the tall, robust Santa Claus (like an "overweight superhero") in the public consciousness.
12-05-2000, 09:35 PM
I don't think either Euty or andros were saying that the Cocola company had nothing to do with the popularizing the jolly-red-guy image. They certainly did. But it is easy to find material that strongly implies that our image of Santa sprang solely from the mind of Sundblom.
An example of this is from the book Secret Formula, an account of Coca-Cola's history by Frederick Allen. From p.8: There was not popular vision of Santa Claus as a round, ruddy fellow in a red suit with fleecy white piping until Sundblom invented it in a series of Christmas ads for Coke.
Obviously this can be taken 2 ways:
a. Sundblom's particular interpretation of "Santa" became dominant, largely because of the ubiquity of Coca-Cola ads.
b. Coca-Cola invented Santa Claus.
It's pretty easy to see why the misconception is so common.
You said:Before 1931, Santa still looked like an old scraggly bishop.
Do you have a cite or any evidence for this? I have seen many pre-1931 images of Santa that show him as rotund, red-garbed, and jolly. Granted, these early images don't look much like Sundblom's Santa, but they are instantly recognizable as the Santa we know and love.
Hey Euty! Good to see you, and nice job on the Santa column. I enjoyed it immensely.
12-06-2000, 11:28 AM
In addition to the origins described in the column, didn't one of the Norse gods (Thor? Odin?) fly through the air on a sled (with or without reindeer) delivering gifts at Yuletide?
Earl Snake-Hips Tucker
12-06-2000, 01:16 PM
I read that Coca-Cola had patented a specific "red" color, that was to appear in any advertising, and that that was part of their credit for having "created" our modern image of Santa Claus--that "Coca-Cola" red was used for so many years in the Coke Christmas ads. The writer of the article did not give any sources for this, however.
12-06-2000, 03:29 PM
Moore's authorship of the famous poem should not be stated as a fact, at least not according to this article:
I haven't read the book, but the author seems to be reputable.
Has anyone else noticed that Santa is getting thinner and fitter every year?
12-06-2000, 03:35 PM
I was going to respond to this this morning, but I over slept and didn't get the chance to. Firstly I highly recommend the book I cited "The Battle for Christmas" for anyone who wants to read more about this. The author goes into much more detail about the sociological aspects of St. Nicholas, and a bit more detail about how the image came about than I had space to deal with here.
Secondly, to respond to CindyLouWho (who's post count is no more than two), I would concede that Sundblom might have been one of the first to give us a pictorial image of the modern Santa Claus. But even a cursory reading of "A Visit from St. Nick" shows that most of the aspects of his image were already a part of the public conciousness before Coc-Cola came along. One of the only aspects that got changed through out the years, and one that is often overlooked, is that in the poem he is featured as an "elf" with a "minature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer." Exactly how an elf is carrying a bag full of full-sized toys isn't explained, but we'll let that go for now. It does, however explain his ability to navigate chimneys. When Sundblom came along, he pictures Santa as a full-sized person, but it seems that Thomas Nast had beaten him to the punch there as well.
So, in conclusion, while Sundblom may have popularized the modern image of Santa, that's a far cry from stating that he created it.
12-06-2000, 03:47 PM
On a bit of a tangent I just wanted to point out that it was the Winter Solstice co-opted by Christianity to create Christmas, NOT Samhain (see original post) which takes place Oct 31st (northern hemisphere).
As http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Ithaca points our:When the Northern Hemisphere Wheel of the Year brings us to Yule on December 21 (the shortest day) the Old God we associated with the Wild Hunt at Samhain again assumes manifest form as the Son of Light.
As the days begin to lengthen He grows to maturity in just a few months to again face the God of Winter - the Holly King, in yet another battle for supremacy over the Earth, their Mother.
In Norse tradition Yule is a twelve night long celebration, the first eve of Yule. The night before the solstice called Mother Night, requires a vigil before the hearth or a bonfire until sunrise, at which point a bell is rung to herald the divine birth of the baby Sun God and His return to the seasonal cycle.
So was Santa once the Holly God?!
Pagan rant from NZ over
12-06-2000, 03:59 PM
Um, please hang up and try again. If you're referring to my article, I said Saturnalia, not Samhain.
12-06-2000, 04:10 PM
Yes, historians agree that Dec. 25th was not the birthday of Jesus. There is evidence that attests to Jesus being born in the Fall, not the Winter. Christmas was actually adapted from a Roman celebration called Saturnalia. The Encyclopedia Romana explains that "at the time of the winter solstice (December 25 in the Julian calendar), Saturnus, the God of seed and sowing, was honored with a festival." The encyclopedia goes on to state that "the Saturnalia did continue to be celebrated as Brumalia (from "bruma," winter solstice) down to the Christian era, when, by the middle of the fourth century AD, its rituals had become absorbed in the celebration of Christmas." So in actuality, Christianity latched itself onto the celebration much like the Coke folk latched themselves onto the Santa image, forever making it their own, through some clever advertising.
12-06-2000, 04:23 PM
Originally posted by Eutychus55
Exactly how an elf is carrying a bag full of full-sized toys isn't explained, but we'll let that go for now.
Shhhhhh, you're not supposed to ask that kind of stuff or you'll get coal.
Still suspending belief in Whoville.
12-06-2000, 04:36 PM
Regarding Jesus' supposed birth, the description I heard in church was that in fact his birth would have been in spring, near Easter (Passover). This would be the case because the shepherds had the sheep in the fields, and there is some mention of them having baby lambs or something. Which has a nice symmetry with his birth and death occurring at the same time of year. Admittedly, this was church, so the credibility is not high.
Euty, the tiny elf carries the full-sized bag of toys the same way the reindeer fly and he circumnavigates the globe in one night and he manages to carry toys and gifts for everyone in his tiny sleigh - magic. Accept the magic, have anything you want. Deny the magic, none of it makes sense, so why bother nit-picking? :)
12-06-2000, 05:36 PM
[b]Originally posted by CindyLouWhoo
Still suspending belief in Whoville.
Dis! I meant Disbelief!
Sheesh, now I might get coal.
12-06-2000, 05:56 PM
Er, why does elf automatically equal short? Nu, so maybe he's a tall elf?
12-06-2000, 06:28 PM
Elves are short by definition. Trolls, on the other hand...
12-06-2000, 06:37 PM
Oh, not necessarily. Tolkien's elves were pretty tall. Besides, definition 2b below makes n mention of size.
elf (člf) noun
plural elves (člvz)
1. A small, often mischievous creature considered to have magical powers.
2. a. A lively, mischievous child. b. A usually sprightly or mischievous or sometimes spiteful person.
[Middle English, from Old English ćlf.]
(From The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition copyright © 1992 by Houghton Mifflin Company. )
Finally, I don't see any problems with the idea that Moore (or whomever) used the wod "elf" in a non-literal sense.
12-06-2000, 08:47 PM
Here's another definition from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition copyright © 1992 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
whoosh (wush) verb
1. The act of not getting a joke.
[SDMB English, from Standard Internet English]
12-06-2000, 10:31 PM
12-07-2000, 07:52 AM
Where's it say he's short? Read Moore's poem:
...A MINIATURE sleigh, draw by eight TINY reindeer....
Being Tiny also explains how he goes up and down that chimney.
I agree with Eutychus -- read Nissenbaum's book "The Battle for Christmas", which also gives you additional reasons for believing Moore the author of the poem (which, IIRC, was attributed to Moore only a couple of years after its initial publication, not "long after" as the link above would have you believe).
12-07-2000, 06:44 PM
...A MINIATURE sleigh, draw by eight TINY reindeer....
Er, he grew. Yes, that's it. He shrinks everything down while he travels, so he can fit all the presents in. Then when he gets out of the sleigh he grows to . . . normal . . . human . . . size . . . . . .
12-11-2000, 11:00 AM
If I may digress (a much more civilized word than hijack, don't you think?) ...
Where did the reindeer come from? More specifically, where do their names derive from? Any reference to the whole roll call before Moore? And most importantly, _Vixen_? Was Santa a little kinky?
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