Coca-Cola Art: Santa Claus & Christmas Around the World

Santa Claus is without a doubt the most recognizable figure associated with Christmas. Santa stands for goodness, kindness and a generous, giving spirit. Today, Santa is an essential part of Christmas celebration, but the modern role and image of Santa Claus saw the light in early America of the 19th century. Dutch, British and American influences came together to give us the Santa Claus that we all know today: the jolly old man with his red & white costume, distributing gifts with his team of elves and reindeers.

The name Santa Claus was Anglicized from “Sinterklaas,” the Dutch word for Saint Nicholas, famous gift-giver and protector of children. It is believed the legend of Santa was brought to the New World by Christopher Columbus, who, upon arriving in Haiti, named a port after the patron saint. In 1621, when the Dutch landed on the New York island of Manhattan, they erected a statue of Saint Nicholas as a tribute to him for their successful journey.

In 1809, Washington Irving (a member of the NYC Historical Society which promoted St. Nicholas as its patron saint), created a tale of a chubby, pipe-smoking Saint Nicholas who rode a magic horse through the air visiting all houses in New York. The elfish figure was small enough to slide down chimneys with gifts for the good children and switches for the bad ones.
The works of writer Clement Clark Moore and the cartoons of Thomas Nast had also a big influence on the present form of Santa. The stories of St. Nicholas, Santa Clause and Kriss Kringle mingled to the new character of Santa Claus, the sum total of several stories, customs and beliefs.

Around the world, most people know Santa Claus and have local-language names for Santa – even if they come from countries where Christmas is not celebrated. Santa or similar gift givers go by these translations in the following countries: “Le Père Noël” (France and Québec), “Weihnachtsmann” or “Nikolaus” (Germany), Papá Noel” (Spain and Mexico), “Joulupukki” (Finland), “Julenissen” (Norway), “Juletomten” (Sweden), “Babadimri” (Albania), “Gaghant Baba” (Armenia), “” (Denmark), “Babbo Natale” (Italy), “Papai Noel” (Brazil), “Санта-Клаус” (Russia), “Ježíšek” (Czech Republic), “Święty Mikołaj” (Poland), “Pai Natal” (Portugal), “Moş Crăciun” (Romania), “Daidí na Nollag” (Ireland and Scottish Highlands), “Dyado Koleda” (Bulgaria), “Noel Baba” (Turkey), “Deda Mraz” (Serbia and Bosnia & Herzegovina). But our favorite is without a doubt the Afghanese name for Santa: “Baba Chaghaloo”. And the Chinese name also sounds very cool: Sheng Dan Lauw Yeh Yeh (phonetics of 圣诞老爷, which means “Christmas Old Man”).

In England Father Christmas is a stern version of Santa Claus who brings gifts on Christmas Eve. In France “Pere Noel” brings gifts to children on Christmas Eve. Children leave their shoes by the fireplace. In Germany families go to church on Christmas Eve. While they are at church the “Christkind” or Christ Child brings presents to their homes. In Switzerland the “Christkindl” or Christ Child brings the gifts. In some towns, Christkindl is an angel who comes down from heaven to give gifts.

The Dutch “Sinterklaas” arrives by boat from Spain. Children leave their shoe on the eve of 6th December filled with hay and carrots for the donkey which carries St. Nicholas’ pack of toys. Children get toys and candy. In Sweden, a gnome called “Juletomten” brings gifts in a sleigh driven by goats.
In Spanish-speaking countries such as Spain, Mexico, South America, children wait until January 6th for their presents. The Three Kings or Wise Men bring the gifts. Children put shoes by the front door to get their gifts. There is usually a big procession through the streets with floats for each of the Wise men. In Italy “La Befana” is a good witch who dresses all in black. Children leave their shoes by the fireplace on the eve of January 6th. Befana comes down the chimney on her broomstick to leave gifts. In Australia, Santa rides waterskis, has a white beard and red bathing suit and sometimes even has “bikini helpers”.

When the name Santa Claus is mentioned anywhere in America today, the image that invariably comes to mind is the one created by Haddon Sundblom for the Coca-Cola Company. From 1931 to 1964, Sundblom painted new Santa illustrations to use in the Coca-Cola Christmas advertising. Today, Coca-Cola continues to use Sundblom’s Santa Claus artworks. Many of his Santa paintings have toured museums and art institutes around the world. The smiling figure still appears regularly on posters and in magazines, newspapers, calendars, Christmas tree ornaments, serving trays and glassware.

Coca-Cola Christmas artworks by RockAndRoll Agency. Art Direction: Wouter De Coster. Brand Team Coca-Cola: Guy Rombouts & Bram Clincke. All Rights Reserved © The Coca-Cola Company.

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Coca-Cola Santa Claus: Coke Christmas Art by Haddon Sundblom

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.

Sundblom initially modeled Santa’s smiling face after the cheerful looks of a friend, retired salesman Lou Prentiss. “He embodied all the features and spirit of Santa Claus,” Sundblom said. “The wrinkles in his face were happy wrinkles.” After Prentiss passed away, the Swedish-American Sundblom used his own face as the ongoing reference for painting the now-enduring, modern image of Santa Claus.

In 1951, Sundblom captured the Coca-Cola Santa “making his list and checking it twice.” However, the ads did not acknowledge that bad children existed and showed pages of good boys and girls only.
Mischievous and magical, the Coca-Cola Santa was not above raiding the refrigerator during his annual rounds, stealing a playful moment with excited children and pets, or pausing to enjoy a Coca-Cola during stops on his one-night, worldwide trek. When air adventures became popular, Santa also could be caught playing with a toy helicopter around the tree.

Haddon Sundblom passed away in 1976, but The Coca-Cola Company continues to use a variety of his timeless depictions of Saint Nicholas in holiday advertising, packaging and other promotional activities. The classic Coca-Cola Santa images created by Sundblom are as ubiquitous today as the character they represent and have become universally accepted as the personification of the patron saint of both children and Christmas.

Source: The Coca-Cola Company

Gil Elvgren, Top Image-Maker & Pin-Up Glamour Master

Born in 1914 in St. Paul, Minnesota, Gil Elvgren was a master painter and one of America’s first and best loved pin-up artists. He is possibly the foremost painter of sensuality through using models who possess a ‘girl-next-door’ quality. His heroines are often caught in humorous situations that cause their skirts to rise and our eyes to follow. His paintings are an excellent proof of the phrase, “A picture is worth one thousand words.”

Elvgren commenced studies at the Minneapolis Art Institute, and later studied (and even taught) at the Chicago Academy of Art. His parents first encouraged him to study architecture, but shortly after starting his studies he decided to pursue art instead. Some of Gil’s fellow students were Al Buell, Andrew Loomis, Coby Whitmore, Robert Skemp and Ben Stahl. Many of his academy friends would later also work for Coca Cola.

Elvgren graduated from the Academy during the depression at the age of twenty-two. Elvgren first job was one for one of the major US advertising agencies, Stevens and Gross. One of their most exciting clients was Coca-Cola. Elvgren contributed to several Coca-Cola ads. No artist working for Coke could sign his work, but Elvgren’s hand & style remain very recognizable.

Elvgren’s work also mirrors the sheer, nostalgic revery that the breathtaking illustrations of Haddon Sundblom’s “Coca-Cola” Santa’s evoke. No wonder, as Elvgren quickly became a protégé of the legendary Sundblom. The old master taught his star pupil the lush brush stroke technique that makes Elvgren’s girls such glowing wonders.

Elvgren conveys the ideal of real life, fun, beauty and sensuality in every of his paintings. Never sexual, always sensual, their style is the epitome of the age of elegance in which he lived.
He spent extreme amounts of time posing the models for the pre-painting photograph. Elvgren always looked for models with vitality and personality, and chose young girls who were new to the modeling business. He felt the ideal pin-up was a 15 year old face on a 20 year old body. In some cases, he combined the body of one girl and the face of another to achieve the desired result.

In 1937, Gil began painting calendar pin-ups for Louis Dow, one of America’s leading publishing companies. These artworks are easily recognizable because they are signed with a printed version of Elvgren’s name, as opposed to his later cursive signature. Dow paintings were often published first in one format, then painted over with different clothes and situations.

Around 1944, Gil was approached by Brown and Bigelow, a firm that still dominates the field in producing calendars and advertising specialties. They offered him $1000 per pin-up, which was substantially more than Dow was paying him. Elvgren signed on with B&B. Gil’s Brown and Bigelow images all contain his cursive signature. Elvgren painted twenty calendar girls each year, ranging from the girl next door letting her dog out, to brave rodeo heroines & water skiing action girls.

Besides a successful career in advertising, Gil Elvgren also did a lot of magazine illustrations. His pretty girls also appeared on many billboards, the same image sometimes modified a bit to sell more than one type of product.

According to Elvgren author & art collector Louis Meisel: “Between the mid-1930s and early 70s, Elvgren produced over 500 paintings of beautiful girls and women. As the decades progressed, the paintings just kept getting better and better. Elvgren continually surpassed himself, always improving in composition, ideas, color and technique.”

The beautiful Elvgren girls are never portrayed as a femme fatale. They are stylized ideals in which the realities and essentials of female form and expression are heightened and exalted artistically. Their charms are revealed in that fleeting instant when she’s been caught unaware in what might be a surprising, sometimes even embarrassing situation. She is intruded upon as she takes a bath. Her skirts get caught in elevator doors, hung up on faucets, and entangled with dog leashes. The elements conspire in divesting her of her clothing. The Elvgren girls, pictured in a variety of fun and clever contexts, are life-affirmative art of the highest order.

Elvgren died in 1980, at the age of 66. Lately, there’s a resurgent interest in his work and prints of his pictures are still bestsellers. Today, Elvgren is recognized as one of the top image makers & glamour artists of the 20th century.