The History of Christmas
 Christ, Claus and the evolution of our most popular holiday


 
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Original Santa sculpture by Dennis Brown "Haddon Sundblom & Coca-Cola"
Born in 1899, Haddon Sundblom dominated the commercial art scene for decades. Often using himself as the model, Sundblom developed the image of jolly Saint Nick for Coca-Cola.


The Civil War cartoonist Thomas Nast drew Santa Claus for Harper's Weekly in 1862; Santa was shown as a small elf-like figure who supported the Union. Nast continued to draw Santa for 30 years and along the way changed the color of his coat from tan to the now traditional red.

The Coca-Cola Company began its Christmas advertising in the 1920s with shopping-related print ads in magazines like the Saturday Evening Post. The first Santa ads used a strict-looking Claus, in the vein of Thomas Nast.

Santa Claus made an appearance in our advertising again in 1930. Artist Fred Mizen painted a department store Santa in a crowd drinking a bottle of Coke®. The ad featured the world's largest soda fountain, which was located in the department store of Famous Barr Co. in St. Louis, Mo. Mizen's painting was used in print ads that Christmas season, appearing in the Saturday Evening Post on December 27, 1930.

Archie Lee, the agency advertising executive for The Coca-Cola Company, wanted the next campaign to show a wholesome Santa as both realistic and symbolic. In 1931, The Coca-Cola Company commissioned Michigan-born illustrator Haddon Sundblom to develop advertising images using Santa Claus.

For inspiration, Sundblom turned to
Clement Clark Moore's 1822 poem "A Visit From St. Nicholas." Moore's description of the man as "chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf" led to an image of Santa that was warm, friendly and human. For the next 35 years, Sundblom painted portraits of Santa that helped to create the modern image of Santa -- an interpretation that today lives on in the minds of children of all ages all over the world.

Beginning in 1928, more Coca-Cola was consumed from bottles than in soda fountains. More and more consumers were taking bottles of Coca-Cola home with them to keep cold in their ice boxes. As a sign of the times, the 1937 campaign saw Santa raiding the fridge.

The first appearance of a child in Sundblom's Christmas creation occurred in 1938, when Santa is shown embracing a youngster in the family living room.

At the outbreak of World War II, franchise bottling operations were located in 44 countries. By the time the war was over, 64 operating plants had been established in war zones, and U.S. military personnel had consumed more than 5 billion bottles of Coca-Cola. Advertising began to reflect this global expansion, and the 1943 Santa said, "Wherever I go..."

What would the holiday season be without children? In 1950, Sundblom painted his next door neighbors in Tucson, Arizona, Lani & Sancy Nason. Yes, they were sisters, but Sundblom changed one to a boy to create more balanced scenes. Sundblom said, "I don't know whether she liked being a boy or not. I never asked her." The Nasons also appeared in 1952 and 1953 works.

In 1951, we see Santa making his list and checking it twice. However, the ads did not acknowledge that bad kids existed. This painting only shows the good boys and girls. It is clear from this year's art that Sundblom is using his own likeness as a model.

Controversy surrounded the 1954 Santa Claus. As one of the most loved campaigns, the Coca-Cola Santa had many fans. Probably because he was using himself as a model and looking in a mirror, Sundblom painted Santa's large belt worn backwards. The ads elicited thousands of letters from consumers telling the company about the mistake.

The Santa artwork for 1956 was a cleaned-up version of the 1953 painting; Santa's work bench and other helpers were removed.

A variety of Santa images were employed for the 1957 holiday season. In one, Santa was poised to blast off to help sell more Coca-Cola. With the subjects of missiles and interplanetary travel on consumers' minds, Santa traded in his sleigh and reindeer for a rocket ship.

The Santa Claus dolls were an important addition to the 1957 campaign. The dolls were first distributed as promotional items for bottlers by an independent advertising supply house. Newer models of the dolls have been produced over the years.

In 1959, Santa helps himself to some Coca-Cola, but gets caught in the act. This year marked a departure for Sundblom. Most of the Santa art of the past featured Santa as the main subject. But from this year onward, Santa plays an important part of the Christmas scene, but elves, children, pets and toys also have significant roles.

1964 was the last year that an original Sundblom was used in the advertising for Coca-Cola. The paintings for 1965 and 1966 were actually created in 1964 and served as the basis of artwork in 1965 and 1966.

While Sundblom did not create new Santa art for us after 1964, the Coca-Cola Santa had a powerful, enduring quality that continued to inspire future Santas for Coca-Cola. The original paintings by Haddon Sundblom are some of the most prized pieces in the art collection of our Archives Department. Many can be seen on display at World of Coca-Cola Atlanta or touring the world during the holiday season.


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Learn more...
Saint Nicholas
American Santa
Yes Virginia
Visit from St Nick
Clement Moore
Thomas Nast
Coca-cola
 

 
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