A little digression into the world of advertising for today’s Christmas-themed advent calendar fact. As we mentioned in yesterday’s post, there is a common idea that Coca-Cola ‘invented’ the modern Santa Claus, with the red and white robes being an invention of the soft drinks company – because these were, and are, the colours of their brand. However, the truth is a little more interesting than this urban legend.
As we also revealed in yesterday’s post, the modern image of Santa Claus was largely a product of the early nineteenth century, and, in particular, a famous poem. But the illustrations portraying St Nick as a jovial man in a red suit were similarly a nineteenth-century invention – long before Haddon Sundblom’s celebrated Coca-Cola billboard advertisements of the 1920s and 1930s.
The red robes we now associate with Santa Claus slightly predated the creation of Coca-Cola (in the mid-1880s). Thomas Nast’s cartoons of Santa Claus for Harper’s Weekly in the 1880s appear to have been the first occasion on which the world glimpsed a red-clad Santa. As Joseph J. Walsh puts it in his book Were They Wise Men or Kings? The Book of Christmas Questions, ‘The poor man has not had the opportunity to change his clothes since.’
Indeed, Coca-Cola weren’t even the first soft drinks giant to depict a red-robed Santa. It was another soft drinks company, called White Rock Beverages, that had the idea to use a red-clothed St Nick to advertise their mineral water, in a series of ads run from 1915 onwards.