Santa Claus is coming to town
The history of Coca‑Cola and the beloved Christmas icon
Most people can agree on what Santa Claus looks like - jolly, with a red suit and a white beard. But he didn’t always look that way, as Coca-Cola advertising actually helped shape this modern day image of Santa.
In 1931, artist Haddon Sundblom created magazine ads for Coca-Cola inspired by Clement Clark Moore's 1822 poem 'The night before Christmas', featuring St Nicholas as a kind, jovial man in a red suit. However, up until then images of Santa Claus had varied throughout different regions and cultures. Some portrayals even presented him as an elf-like, spooky or scary chatacter - far from the merry old man we know today.
Because magazines were so widely viewed, and because Sundblom's portrayal of him appeared for more than three decades, the image of Santa most people have today is largely based on Coca-Cola advertising.
Did you know? It's a common misconception that Santa wears a red coat because red is the colour of Coca-Cola. In fact, although Haddon Sundblom's paintings have been very influential, Santa had appeared in red clothing before Sundblom began creating festive images for the company
From 1931 to 1964, Coca-Cola advertising showed Santa on his rounds, pausing to read a letter and enjoy a Coke, and raiding the fridges at a number of homes.
The original oil paintings Sundblom created over 33 years were adapted for Coca-Cola advertising in magazines, store displays, billboards, posters, calendars and even plush dolls. Many of those items are popular collectibles today.
Coca-Cola Santa collectibles, posters and packaging
Sundblom painted Santa using a live model - his friend, Lou Prentiss, a retired salesman. When Prentiss passed away, the artist used himself as a model, painting while looking into a mirror. After the 1930s, he used photographs to create the image of St Nick.
Did you know? The children that feature in some of Sundblom's paintings were based on his neighbours - but in real life both youngsters were girls! He 'turned' one into a boy for his images in order to give them more balance
In 2001, the artwork from Sundblom's 1962 original painting was used as the basis for an animated TV commercial starring the Coca-Cola Santa. The ad was created by Academy Award-winning animator Alexandre Petrov.