The Santa Claus we all know and love — that big, jolly man in the red suit with a white beard — didn’t always look that way. In fact, many people are surprised to learn that prior to 1931, Santa was depicted as everything from a tall gaunt man to a spooky-looking elf. He has donned a bishop's robe and a Norse huntsman's animal skin. In fact, when Civil War cartoonist Thomas Nast drew Santa Claus for Harper's Weekly in 1862, Santa was a small elflike figure who supported the Union. Nast continued to draw Santa for 30 years, changing the color of his coat from tan to the red he’s known for today.
Here, a few other things you may not have realized about the cheerful guy in the red suit.
1. Santa Has Been Featured in Coke Ads Since the 1920s
In 1930, artist Fred Mizen painted a department-store Santa in a crowd drinking a bottle of Coke. The ad featured the world's largest soda fountain, which was located in the department store Famous Barr Co. in St. Louis, Mo. Mizen's painting was used in print ads that Christmas season, appearing in The Saturday Evening Post in December 1930.
Coca-Cola Helped Shape the Image of Santa
In 1931 the company began placing
For inspiration, Sundblom turned to Clement Clark Moore's 1822 poem "
A Visit From St. Nicholas" (commonly called "'Twas the Night Before Christmas"). Moore's description of St. Nick led to an image of a warm, friendly, pleasantly plump and human Santa. (And even though it's often said that Santa wears a red coat because red is the color of
Sundblom’s Santa debuted in 1931 in Coke ads in The Saturday Evening Post and appeared regularly in that magazine, as well as in Ladies Home Journal, National Geographic, The New Yorker and others.
From 1931 to 1964,
Sundblom created his final version of Santa Claus in 1964, but for several decades to follow,
Santa Claus and
3. The "New Santa" Was Based on a Salesman
In the beginning, Sundblom painted the image of Santa using a live model — his friend Lou Prentiss, a retired salesman. When Prentiss passed away, Sundblom used himself as a model, painting while looking into a mirror. Finally, he began relying on photographs to create the image of St. Nick.
People loved the
The children who appear with Santa in Sundblom’s paintings were based on Sundblom's neighbors — two little girls. So he changed one to a boy in his paintings.
The dog in Sundblom’s 1964 Santa Claus painting was actually a gray poodle belonging to the neighborhood florist. But Sundblom wanted the dog to stand out in the holiday scene, so he painted the animal with black fur.
4. Santa Claus Got a New Friend in 1942
5. Santa Became Animated in 2001
In 2001, the artwork from Sundblom's 1963 painting was the basis for an animated TV commercial starring the
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