News Release – Father Christmas – It’s The Real Thing!
As you’re hanging up your stockings at the end of the bed waiting for Santa to arrive with his long, white beard and dressed in his bright red costume with black boots and large sack of toys, it would be fitting to give thanks to Coca Cola who paid an enormous $1,000 (you could buy a car for $700 at that time) for this instantly recognisable image of Father Christmas as he’s portrayed today
For it was in 1931 that through the D’Arcy Advertising Agency, Coca Cola were able to commission the services of a Michigan-born illustrator, Haddon Sundblom, to develop a unique advertising image for their ‘new’ Santa Claus showing him to be a fun and homely character that you’d want to invite into your house. Prior to that Father Christmas was routinely depicted as a scrawny, elf like figure and not very homely at all.
For inspiration, Sunblom himself turned to Clement Clark Moore’s 1822 poem “A Visit From St. Nicholas” or more commonly called “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”. In it, Santa is described as being dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot. The poem then goes on to say.. 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 on his chin was as white as the snow. Contrary to popular belief, however, the red jacket was not invented by Coca Cola, despite it being their corporate colour. Santa had been depicted with a red jacket long before Sunblom got hold of him in other drawings and illustrations.
Sundblom’s Santa first appeared in 1931 in Coke ads that featured in The Saturday Evening Post where it appeared regularly in that magazine, as well as in Ladies Home Journal, National Geographic, The New Yorker and many others. In fact, from 1931 to 1964, all of – Coca Cola’s Christmas advertising showed Sunblom’s Santa either playing with and delivering new toys, pausing to read a letter whilst enjoying a Coke or visiting with the children who (in those days) would stay up to greet him. He was even seen raiding the refrigerators at a number of houses looking for a bottle of his favourite tipple – Coca Cola.
It goes without saying that with this much publicity and the jovial appeal of the ‘new’ Santa, Coca Cola’s portrayal quickly became the recognised face of Father Christmas.
But what About Rudolph?
In Clement Moore’s 1822 poem he gives reference to the eight original reindeers that pull Santa’s sleigh, namely Dasher, Dancer , Prancer and Vixen Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen. However, once again it is only as a result of advertising that we get the ninth reindeer, Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Created by the store chain, Montgomery Ward as part of their annual Christmas promotion he first appeared in 1939 in a free ‘giveaway’ colouring book.