The story of how Coke designed Santa

Originally published at: The story of how Coke designed Santa | Boing Boing


Coca-Cola was not the first. Puck magazine did it almost three decades earlier (click for bigger versions).


There’s parts of the celebration I adore. Others I dislike. Like pretty much everything.


Godalmighty, the forced “jokey” quality of that video is irritating.

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Yeah. This “Coca-Cola invented the modern Santa” thing was dreamed up by Coke’s marketing department in the last 25 years or so. Sundblom (not Sundbloom, as this guy pronounces it) was a really talented illustrator who just did very charming paintings of what people already pretty much thought Santa looked like.


This Santa pucks.


Even earlier than that. The general description of Santa was formalized with A Visit From St. Nicolas in 1823.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a pedler just opening his pack.
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 of his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,

Pretty much everything people claim distinguishes CocaCola’s ad version from pre existing versions is right there. And if you want an origin point for modern American Santa, this poem is responsible for a hell of a lot of it. Including the reindeer flying and the connection to elves.

And before that. You had a weird little thing in Germanic countries with de-Catholicized alternatives to St. Nicolas. One of which was Weihnachtsmann, apparently created in Germany by literally taking the Bishop’s vestments off St. Nicholas. If you poke around for 19th and early 20th century images of that guy. He’s damn near identical to modern Santa. He is chubby, he got a slouch hat on, he’s usually in red, he’s got a pipe, a big white beard, a sleigh.

And he apparently got jollier as he displaced Christkind, a literal Baby Jesus, as the gift giver of preference in some parts of Germany.


Dickens’s/John Leech’s Santa Father Christmas Spirit of Christmas Present was a lot more louche and looks a lot more fun. I think we should have stuck with him.


Yeah. No.

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How am I just now learning of the Italian Christmas witch, La Befana? I bet she gets together with Krampus for after-work drinks on boxing day. That’s a happy hour I wanna go to!


Also, right in the video (at the 1:27 mark) is an ad from 1868 with Santa wearing a red suit. Granted, the hat’s a bit different, but the image is much earlier than this Coke story.


There’s so many alt Santas and associated Christmas demons.

I did not know till like 2 days ago about the apparition of the Baby Jesus that apparently gives the gifts in big chunks of Latin America, and central Europe. Nor that Chistkind had been created by Martin Luther himself as a less Catholic alternative to St. Nicholas, or it was the origin point for giving gifts on Christmas instead of on December 6th or New Years.

Then apparently in some parts of Germany Christkind is a pretty lady for some reason:

It’s utter insanity.


And in Russia, he’s helped out by The Snow Maiden. No elves, no reindeer.


Imperialist American Santa must stop displacing our Christmas Ladies and their weird hats.

Why are we stuck with the version that hangs out with child labor? Instead of demons, mountain hobos, and models?


It’s still not too late for Pepsi-Cola to standardize the appearance of Krampus.


Aren’t there enough of those on the Hallmark Channel around X-mas time?


I appreciate how people enjoy crediting the ad industry for “inventing” cultural practices. Some maybe, but for the most part they really just figured out how to capitalize on ideas of love, friendship, kindness and generosity so that we all blow our bank on it. But they sure didn’t invent those ideas.


Pretty earlly on the Christkind started to take on a live of their own and whether any particular Christkind is Baby jesus or a separate angelic being is something best not thought about to hard.

I remember many years ago wondering why so many American children seemed so old when they were still believing in Santa. This included people’s own accounts of their childhood, so children just playing along for any number of reasons wasn’t the answer. My suspicion is that at least part of the reason is our Christmas mythology is complicated enough that it doesn’t take a very perceptive five-year-old to notice that any attempt at explanation raises more questions than it answers.


Yeah apparently there are miniature Jesi that follow the Christkind around in some areas.

The whole seasonal gift givers and their known associates thing is a death spiral of strange. The more you poke it with a stick the more you turn up.

Christmas continuity is worse than 80’s X-Men.