When you think of Christmas, does an image of a red-cheeked, white-bearded Santa Claus in a red velvet suit come to mind? In 1931, Academy alum Haddon Sundblom created what would become a staple of Christmas imagery across the world. And while he wasn’t the first to paint Father Christmas in this style, he spent the years between 1931 and 1965 shaping the famous image that would be used by Coca-Cola for years to come.
When Coca-Cola commissioned Sundblom to create an image of Santa Claus, he found inspiration in the poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas”, written by Clement Clark Moore in 1822. The poem, also known as “Twas the Night Before Christmas” gives a very visual description of Santa that Sundblom was able to depict in his paintings.
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a pedler just opening his pack.
His eyes—how they twinkled! his dimples, how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard on his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke, it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly
That shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head…
– Excerpt from “A Visit from St. Nicholas” by Clement Clark Moore, 1822
Sundblom’s first Santa image, titled “My Hat’s Off” appeared in Coca-Cola advertisements in 1931. It was the brand’s first major attempt at showing that coco-cola could be enjoyed all year, not just during the hot summer months. Due to the high cost of canvas, the original painting of “My Hat’s Off” was painted over to create another Santa advertisement.
In the 40s and 50s, Sundblom added a new character to his Coco-Cola images. Sprite Boy, named for his elf or sprite-like features, began occasionally appearing alongside Santa in 1942. Sprite Boy was also featured in his own ads, always reminding consumers that “Coke” is just a friendly nickname for Coca-Cola.
In 1964, Sundblom created his last Santa Claus, but Coca-Cola would continue to use images based on his artwork for decades after. The original Coca-Cola Santa paintings have toured the world and are counted among some of the brand’s most valuable items.
Watch the video below to learn more about the story behind Haddon Sundblom’s famous Coca-Cola artwork.
Featured Image: Sundblom Santa, Give and take say I, Oil Painting © 1937 The Coca-Cola Company