Did Coke Create the Modern Santa Claus?

One of my students is researching the commercialization of Christmas. She got taken in by an urban myth: that Coke created the image of the Modern Santa. So did I. Amazing, I thought: the power of advertising. Then I checked it out.

True, around 1931, Coke ads featuring Santa cemented his image. So the Santa today is pretty much the Coke Santa. But Coke Santa drew upon already established images of this fictional creatures.

Norman Rockwell drew a number of Santa Clauses that look very much like the Coke Santa. But while I don’t like Rockwell generally for his incredibly sentimentalized visions of American life, I like his Santa much better than the Coke Santa. Rockwell’s Santa looks old at times and tired out. The Coke ads dehumanize Santa and turn him into a one dimensional Santa whose main purpose is to drink Coke.

If you reflect a minute, this is pretty disgusting. Once again the sales pitch is aimed at kids; and what is being sold to kids is benign and joyous Coke, not some sugary stuff that can make you obese. Coke ought to be ashamed.

But of course they are shameless, on their Coke Heritage page, they claim:

Before the 1931 introduction of the Coca-Cola Santa Claus created by artist Haddon Sundblom, the image of Santa ranged from big to small and fat to tall. Santa even appeared as an elf and looked a bit spooky.

I guess for Coke being human is a bit spooky.

And for fun: Springstein’s Santa Claus is coming.

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