More Than Meets the Eye

Santa and Politics
The Merry Old Santa Claus portrait is famous today for cementing Santas image, but was actually another form of propaganda. (Smithsonian Magazine December 19, 2018)
The “Merry Old Santa Claus” portrait is famous today for cementing Santa’s image, but was actually another form of propaganda. (Smithsonian Magazine December 19, 2018)
Thomas Nast

Santa Claus is totally a soda mascot.  You may have seen Father Christmas on a Coca Cola can or bottle or even on a Coca Cola truck. Today I will answer the question: Did Coca Cola invent Papa Noel? 

It is commonly believed that the popular image of Santa was made by Coca Cola. It makes sense since he is dressed in the Coca Cola colors of white and red and is commonly referred to as Coca Cola’s Santa. So is he Santa or Canta (get it Coca Cola+Santa=Canta )? Let’s look at the evidence. The OG Santa is Saint Nicholas. Saint Nicholas was a Saint who shared his riches with the poor in the area now known as Turkey.  He left money in unmarried women’s shoes so that their fathers wouldn’t sell them into slavery and gave kids oranges and other fruits. Thus, the legend of Saint Nicholas turned into the legend of Santa Claus. Until the 20th century Santa was normally seen as skinny and wearing a green robe. Did Coca Cola invent Santa? The answer is no. The legend of the jolly fellow predated Coca Cola’s ad campaign by over 15 years. He  appeared in ads as early as 1915, while Coca Cola’s ad campaign “in partnership with Santa” began in the early 1930s. 

So, how did St. Nick turn into the Santa we all know and love today? White Rock Water was the first company to use him in an ad campaign in 1915. However, its Santa resembled Coca Cola’s. Did they create this version? Did they think, “Hey, everybody! Santa put on like 80 pounds and he now wears red.”?  The answer is no. 

Thomas Nast is credited with this rendering. This version of Santa dates back to 1881 when Nast, who was a widely known artist for politically related things (he is the one who originally made the Democrat donkey), created this painting. However,  Santa’s looks are based on the most unjolly thing of them all, political  propaganda. How? Nast created him for a political cartoon that represents the Union Army.  After all, the Civil War was raging at this time. Look at the picture. Notice anything weird? Santa is wearing a sword, something that a jolly old saint would not wear. Also, the horse he is holding is similar to the Trojan horse from Greek Mythology. Is he trying to tell the government that they are deceiving their own country and military? The doll he is holding is a blue Union doll (the Union wore blue, Confederates wore gray) and his pack of toys is a military backpack which was used in many wars.  The watch hanging from him says it’s almost midnight, reminding the government it is almost out of time to start paying their military.  This picture of Santa was so widely popularized and used so much that  people just thought that this is what Santa looks like. This is the truth behind the image of Santa.


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