The big, jolly white man in the blood-red suit with a flowing white beard—you know, the guy who magically appears on Christmas Day, Santa Claus—has not always been so fun-loving, peaceful and giving. And he has not always looked that way, either.
Indeed, in America before 1931, Santa was depicted as everything from a tall, pointy-nosed, gaunt, hungry-looking man to an elfish, spooky-looking boogie man. He has been a Catholic bishop and even a Norseman (Viking) huntsman wrapped in still bloody animal skins.
Thomas Nast was a Civil War cartoonist who drew Santa Claus for Harper’s Weekly in 1862. He pictured Santa as a small elflike figure who supported the Union cause, of course. Nast drew Santa for 30 years, and gradually changed the color of Santa’s coat from a drab tan to bright red. Here are a few other things you may not have realized about the cheerful guy in the red suit:
The Coca-Cola Company is the largest soft-drink manufacturer in the world. One of the main reasons for its unparalleled success is because in the 1920s it began to publish Christmas-oriented ads in top magazines like The Saturday Evening Post. Its very first Santa ads simply followed the pattern of Thomas Nast by employing a severe and strict-looking Claus.
In 1930, artist Fred Mizen painted a department-store Santa surrounded by shoppers. That Santa was drinking—are you ready?—a bottle of Coke. That painting was then featured in The Saturday Evening Post in December 1930.
Smelling potential success, in 1931 the company began placing Coca-Cola ads in other popular magazines. It was a guy named Archie Lee, of the D'Arcy Advertising Agency who convinced the Coca-Cola Company to begin depicting a more wholesome Santa. Coca-Cola agreed and commissioned Michigan-born illustrator Haddon Sundblom to develop advertising images showing Santa as a real person and not simply as somebody dressed as or pretending to be Santa Claus.
Sundblom fortuitously used Clement Clark Moore's 1822 poem "A Visit From St. Nicholas" (commonly called "'Twas the Night Before Christmas") to develop the image of a warm, friendly, pleasantly plump and very human Santa. Sundblom’s Santa debuted in 1931 in Coke ads in The Saturday Evening Post and appeared regularly in that magazine, as well as in Ladies Home Journal, National Geographic, The New Yorker and others. The red coat was now enshrined as part of the uniform, part of the mystique of St. Nick.
Sundblom drew his final iteration of Santa Claus in 1964, but for many years after, Coca-Cola continued to use Sundblom’s original works. These paintings are now some of the most valuable artworks in the world. They may be found in 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. And a number of the original paintings can be seen at World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta.
And finally, in 1942, Coca-Cola introduced "Sprite Boy," a character who sat on Santa’s lap in ads throughout the 1940s and 1950s. Sprite Boy was also created by Sundblom. He was called Sprite Boy because he was both sprite and an elf. In the 1960s Coca-Cola introduced the still-popular beverage Sprite.
Well, actually not an opinion, but more of a tease. Why is cocaine illegal in the United States? Hint: How and why did Coca-Cola become so popular so fast? Or, what put the “pep” in Pepsi?