by Diane Fisher
As a new decade dawns and we consider “the good”, “the bad” and “the interesting” from the year that is drawing to a close, it is an opportunity to consider the influences we chose to accept.
For many the story of how in the 1930s Coca Cola together with their advertising agency, and inspired by the poetry of “The Night Before Christmas” has brought us the current representation of Father Christmas will be a well known story.
But is this the truth?
If we take ourselves back to the earlier beginnings (fourth century AD, and into Turkey) we do find a man named Nicholas who became a bishop. The facts merge with legend at that point, but the legend carries the monikers of kindness, and generosity toward children. The facts pick up again with the celebration of the Feast of Saint Nicholas – which is observed on December 6 (Western Christian countries) and December 19 (Eastern Christian countries).
The Feast of Saint Nicholas (or Sint Nikolaas) is a feast where parents would leave out gifts for children, embracing the kindness and generosity of Saint Nicholas. A link to stockings at Christmas, is the Dutch practice of leaving out clogs filled with straw for Saint Nicholas who would arrive on a donkey, and in the morning find the clogs filled with gifts.
In the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam (today we know it as New York), the legends and traditions evolved with the emergence of Sinter Klaas, who now flew across the sky in a wagon and dropped presents down the chimney. It is a very small change in accent to move from Sinter Klaas to Santa Claus.
In the mid 1800s Santa was often drawn with a pointed hat, long coat and straight beard. A tall and slim character was not uncommon. Harper’s Weekly changed that in 1863 when Thomas Nast was hired to draw Santa bringing gifts to the troops fighting the Civil War. Drawing on the image created in the poem – “The Night Before Christmas” and the popular images of ‘Uncle Sam’, Thomas drew a very cheery round chap, who wore a star spangled jacket, striped pants and a cap. For Thomas Nast a 40 year tradition of drawing Santa was born, and over the years, the clothing moved away from patriotic depiction to a plain woollen suit. Sometimes the suit was green, but often red, long before the advertising agency of Coca Cola.
The story of the influence of Coca Cola and the advertising agency is well covered in their company history and it is certainly an influential chapter in creating the imagery that we enjoy today.
With the rapid availability of information, and the easy access to reliable sources of information, as we move into the 20s, we are more able than ever to answer the question “Is it the truth?”, provided we ask the question in the first place.