When the “Holidays Are Coming” Coca-Cola advertisement hits your TV screen, it’s not uncommon to hear somebody say “hey did you know Coke made Santa red and that he was green before?”
As well as “Coke owns the rights to Santa” and these are things many of us just take to be facts. However, they are completely mythical.
So why do people believe this?
Well, as many of you know Santa is based on Saint Nicholas, a historic Greek Christian bishop known for his generosity and kind-heartedness.
Nicholas was renowned for performing miracles and giving to those poorer than him, and in Germany on December 6th people celebrate “St. Nikolaus Day” by putting their shoes outside their room.
They do this because the original Saint Nick would go around putting coins in the shoes of the poor, as people would often leave their boots outside back in the day.
In the 16th Century after the reformation, the stories and traditions of Saint Nicholas became unpopular and uncelebrated until he started appearing as a character in old English plays and stories as someone who would deliver gifts to children.
Back then he was known as “Old Man Christmas”, or “Father Christmas”, with this trend eventually catching on across Europe.
In France he became known as “Père Nöel”, and in parts of Austria and Germany he became known as “Christkind”, which was a golden-haired angel-winged baby version of Jesus.
How did he become the iconic red Santa we know of today?
Well, bishops are known to wear red robes, and quite often when being illustrated Saint Nicholas would be depicted in red robes.
This is something artist Thomas Nast’s started doing when his illustrations of the jolly fellow started appearing in the magazine Harper’s Weekly.
Before these illustrations, during the Victorian period, Santa was often depicted wearing all manner of different colors – white, blue, brown and, of course, green.
Harper’s Weekly published Nast’s drawings of Santa for some 20 years, all of which were the iconic man we recognize now – a cheerful grinning gent with a big belly, red and white robes and a sack of gifts.
Plus, Nast also gave him a pipe. Nast’s drawings of Santa became very popular and were accepted as the norm for what he looked like.
More and more artists started drawing Santa as Nast has, wearing the red get up now synonymous with Christmas between 1900 and 1930.
What does this have to do with Coca-Cola?
In 1931 Coca-Cola first used Santa on their advertisements, with artist Haddon Sundblom making only one major change to the iconic portrayal of him by Thomas Nast: they switched his pipe to a glass bottle of Coke.
So, whilst Santa hasn’t always been red, it definitely wasn’t Coke that made him red and they definitely don’t own the rights to Santa – they’ve even said this themselves before to try and debunk the myth!
The most iconic Christmas thing Coke have ever given us are the red Christmas trucks and the “Holidays Are Coming” advertisements, which first started up in 1995 and now signal the beginning of Christmas… even if it’s November…
Thanks for reading people, hope you enjoyed this! Now you can be the brain-box the next time someone tells you Coca-Cola turned Santa red!