Did Coca-Cola create the modern image of Santa Claus?
December 05, 2019 9:30PM
No, Santa’s image in the American imagination goes back way further than Coca-Cola’s iconic Christmas ads.
Santa Claus came over to the United States with Dutch immigrants in the late 1700s. Although his image was constantly evolving, there are definitely instances of Santa depicted as a rotund, red-coat-wearing man with a long white beard that far predate Coke’s use of that image. The cola company started using Santa in its ads in the 1920s, and its most iconic representation comes from Haddon Sundblom’s hand-painted illustrations, which he did every Christmas season from 1931 to 1964.
This version of Santa was based heavily on Clement Clark Moore's 1822 poem "A Visit From St. Nicholas" (also known as "'Twas the Night Before Christmas"). Although Moore probably cribbed from other sources, his poem is thought to be mainly responsible for our modern idea of Santa as a jolly old elf.
Much credit also goes to political cartoonist Thomas Nast—he depicted Santa Claus in a variety of ways in the late 19th century and served as a major inspiration for Sundblom’s paintings.
So, no, it’s not accurate to say Coca-Cola “invented” our modern idea of Santa Claus, but it did help popularize that image.