Santa Claus – a generous, smiling old man with a big belly and white beard dressed in a red costume. Is this how he has always looked like? As it turns out, Coca Cola started to develop the modern image of Santa Claus in 1930, asking Haddon Sundblom’s company to draw a lovable character for advertising needs.
Nevertheless, Santa Claus is not a mere character of Coca Cola. It has deep historic roots. It is possible that the original person behind the legend of Santa Claus is St Nicholas, who, according to stories, was born in Myra (modern Turkey) in III century AD. St Nicholas was born in a wealthy family. He lost his parents at an early age and later used his inheritance. Later on in life, however, he chose to follow the path of a holy man – gave away his wealth and lived an ascetic life.
According to legends, St Nicholas would lower bags with gold to poor families through chimneys or just by tossing them through windows. This may be the story behind Santa Claus entering homes through the chimney. Over the course of time, St Nicholas’ worn head-wear became the traditional hat of Santa Claus.
The tradition of a generous old man bringing presents to families has been around for centuries. In the Middle Ages, French monks would donate food to poor people on St Nicholas Day. This tradition later found its way to Netherlands and Germany.
The Dutch also carried the legend of Santa Claus to the New World. In Dutch, his name is ‘Sinter Klaas’ – very similar to the American Santa Claus. The first mention of his name in English goes back to 1773. The blooming of the legend itself dates back to 1823, to the publication of American writer Clement Clarke Moore’s poem ‘A Visit from St. Nicholas’ (better known as The Night Before Christmas), in which the author describes a short man who flies around in a sleigh pulled by eight reindeer and leaves presents for children.
In spite of such a long history, up until the first appearance of Santa Claus in Coca Cola’s advertisement, there was no unified view on his appearance.
It is likely that his image changed with our ever-changing world. Nevertheless, there is nothing in the world children expect more anxiously than the arrival of the lovable, generous and smiling old man in red.