“Haul out the holly!”
“Santa Claus is coming to town.”
“So you betta watch out . . .”
for all those last minute sales?
Has Commercialism taken over the holidays? Or has it been that way for so long we’ve forgotten?
Widely believed to have originated from the tale of St. Nicholas, a monk famous for his gift giving, the legend of Santa Claus arrived on American soil in the late 18th century. Called Sinter Klaas, a Dutch nickname for Sint Nikolaas, he maintained his tie to good works and gifts, often being portrayed in images with stockings filled with toys in the background.
While this early Santa retained his affiliation to charity, his image was still undefined. He was depicted as everything from a small, scary elf; a tall, gaunt, burly looking man; a Catholic Bishop; and even a Viking Hunter wearing bloody animal skins. This grim and unappeasable Santa was popularized through the somewhat grim drawings of Civil War artist, Thomas Nast.
In the 1920's, Coca-Cola started using Santa Claus in their advertisements, still portraying him in the solemn manner of Nast — but Coke was about to give Santa a makeover.
In 1931, Archie Lee, an executive from D'Arcy Advertising Agency, advised Coca-Cola to promote an approachable, wholesome and symbolic Santa Claus in their holiday campaigns. Enter Haddon Sundblom, an illustrator from Michigan. Inspired by Clement Clark Moore's 19th century poem, A Visit From St. Nicholas — more commonly known as T'was the Night Before Christmas — Sundblom created the grandfather-looking, plump and wholesome Santa we know today.
Introduced in 1931 in The Saturday Evening Post, the new and improved Coke pushing Santa soon made appearances in Ladies Home Journal, National Geographic, The New Yorker and many others.
Following up on their Santa success, The Coca-Cola Company introduced Sprite Boy in 1942. This small elfish boy, kindled the popularity of the Santa elves and increased the awareness of Coca-Cola in young children. Strangely, it wasn’t until 1961 that Coca-Cola introduced Sprite as a beverage.
The Coca-Cola Company was not the only company to realize the marketing opportunities of the holiday season. In 1939, a Montgomery Ward copywriter by the name of Robert May was asked to write a short christmas story to be handed out as a promotional piece during the busy holiday season. His sweet short story about a misfit reindeer sold over 2.5 million copies that first year. However, it wasn't until 1949 that Rudolph's fame skyrocketed — when May's brother-in-law, songwriter Johnny Marks, wrote the lyrics to the jingle still sung today.
And Thus Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer DID go down in history!