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It’s not surprising to me that some of the best Christmas and Santa Claus art originated from advertisements. The art shown here is some of my favorite classic Santas and the ones a lot of kids grew up with.
Though he was not the first artist to create an image of Santa Claus for Coca-Cola advertising, Haddon Sundblom’s version became the standard for other Santa renditions and is the most-enduring and widespread depiction of the holiday icon to this day.
Coca-Cola’s Santa artworks would change the world’s perception of the North Pole’s most-famous resident forever and would be adopted by people around the world as the popular image of Santa. In the 1920s, The Coca-Cola Company began to promote soft drink consumption for the winter holidays in U.S. magazines. The first Santa ads for Coke used a strict-looking Claus.In 1930, a Coca-Cola advertised with a painting by Fred Mizen, showing a department store Santa impersonator drinking a bottle of Coke amid a crowd of shoppers and their children.
Not long after, a magical transformation took place. Archie Lee, then 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 Company commissioned Haddon Sundblom, a Michigan-born illustrator and already a creative giant in the industry, to develop advertising images using Santa Claus. Sundblom envisioned this merry gentleman as an opposite of the meager look of department store Santa imitators from early 20th century America.
Sundblom turned to Clement Moore’s classic poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (better known as “’Twas the Night Before Christmas”) for inspiration. The ode’s description of the jolly old elf inspired Sundblom to create an image of Santa that was friendly, warm and human, a big change from the sometimes-harsh portrayals of Santa up to that time. He painted a perfectly lovable patron saint of the season, with a white beard flowing over a long red coat generously outlined with fur, an enormous brass buckle fastening a broad leather belt, and large, floppy boots.
Sundblom’s Santa was very different from the other Santa artworks: he radiated warmth, reminded people of their favorite grandfather, a friendly man who lived life to the fullest, loved children, enjoyed a little honest mischief, and feasted on snacks left out for him each Christmas Eve.
Coca-Cola’s Christmas campaign featuring this captivating Santa ran year after year. As distribution of Coca-Cola and its ads spread farther around the world, Sundblom’s Santa Claus became more memorable each season, in more and more countries. The character became so likable, The Coca-Cola Company and Haddon Sundblom struck a partnership that would last for decades. Over a span of 33 years, Haddon Sundblom painted imaginative versions of the “Coca-Cola Santa Claus” for for Coke advertising, retail displays and posters.