In 1931, Michigan-born illustrator Haddon Sundblom was approached by the Coca-Cola Company to reinvent the image of Santa Claus. The artist had a lot to work with. The legend which had begun with the generosity of a 4th-century bishop was Americanized by Washington Irving in 1809.
In 1823, thanks to the poetry of Clement Moore (maybe), he became a jolly elfish figure with magical flying reindeer. During the American Civil War, artist Thomas Nash gave St. Nicholas his more familiar name. Santa Claus became an enthusiastic Union supporter dressed in fur from head to toe.
American artists Rockwell, Wyeth, and Leyendecker captured the essence of Santa Claus in the early 20th-century. The jolly fat man received a fur-trimmed stocking cap, wide black belt, black boots, and a large bag of toys. This is also when red and white became his undisputed favorite colors.
By the time Sundblom got hold of him, Santa already resembled a Coke can in the American imagination. But Santa was still elfish, stern, and a little bit too much like a random fat guy in a funny suit. Evidently, that didn’t make people want to run out and drink Coca-Cola.
Sundblom solved the problem by recruiting his neighbor, a fat, jolly salesman, to model for him. The result was a magical looking image of a warm and friendly man people the world over began to identify with. For thirty years, Sundblom breathed life into his Santa. He played with toys, relaxed by the fire, and pilfered the Christmas feast from the refrigerator.
All this he did with a warm smile and a bottle of Coke. The images captured the imagination of the world, even in nations where “Santa” was more often portrayed as a wiry bishop. The rumor spread that Sundblom and Coca-Cola invented the iconic red and white suit of the American Santa Claus.
But it isn’t exactly true. What they did was standardize Santa as a fat kleptomaniac with a friendly face and a raging Coke addiction. And Christmas has been all the jollier ever since.
My kiddos have outgrown their Santa years, and thankfully we never got into that creeptastic Elf on a Shelf thing. But they appreciate the magic of the legend, and they’ll have a hard time getting to sleep on Christmas Eve. Because our stockings are still hung by the chimney with care, and my boys know St. Nicholas soon will be there.
He’ll be jolly-ish as he assembles surprises late into the night (maybe we could use an elf on our shelf). He’ll drink the Coke left for him on the hearth because he’ll need the caffeine. And before he stumbles bleary-eyed into bed, he might even raid the fridge.
My blog was recently nominated for the Sunshine Award. The award is a way for bloggers to recognize the efforts of fellow bloggers and express appreciation for writing they have found inspiring in one way or another. Wow!
So you can imagine my delight to find that another blogger, a very gifted one who knows a great deal more about history than I do, honored me with this nomination. Honestly, I was so excited, you would have thought I had just received a crate marked FRA-GI-LE (which is probably Italian).
You remember that scene from A Christmas Story, right? Ralphie’s dad has just received notice that he won a newspaper trivia contest by answering the question: “What was the name of the Lone Ranger’s nephew’s horse?” (It’s Victor, but I’m sure you already knew that). His major award arrives in a large crate during supper time and the whole family gathers around to see what’s inside.
When Mr. Parker pulls from the crate a lamp in the shape of a fishnet-stockinged leg with a fringed skirt shade, he can’t contain his enthusiasm. To his wife’s chagrin and his young sons’ amazement, Mr. Parker puts the lamp in a place of honor right in the middle of the front window for the whole town to admire.
The movie is based on the stories of Jean Shepherd including one titled: “My Old Man and the Lascivious Special Award That Heralded the Birth of Pop Art.” (I think we should all just take a moment to appreciate how ridiculous and wonderful that title is). Shepherd’s lamp was inspired by an early advertising logo of the Nehi Corporation, a fruity soda company, whose ads featured the legs of a seated woman, her stocking visible up to the knee. The company’s bottle design at the time also incorporated a rope like pattern reminiscent of ladies’ stockings.
Though it is now nearly impossible to obtain Nehi soda, it enjoyed great market success in the United States through the middle of the 20th century with flavors such as: luau, chocolate, orange, peach, watermelon, blue cream, lemonade, pineapple, and fruit punch. Of course, the company sold a few of the flavors we would consider more traditional today as well and in the late 1950’s, the Nehi Corporation was renamed the Royal Crown Cola Company after its best selling flavor.
I’m guessing most of you are at least somewhat familiar with RC Cola. It’s that brand carried in a few restaurants that is often viewed as a acceptable alternative to the better Coca-Cola (and I suppose Pepsi fans might offer a similar description, but obviously they would be wrong). Nehi has been largely forgotten by most of us, except for perhaps the most devoted M*A*S*H fans who may remember that grape Nehi was Radar O’Reilly’s favorite soft drink.
Still, every year starting on Christmas Eve, 40 million of us tune into to TBS to watch at least a little bit of the marathon showing of A Christmas Story and Nehi enjoys a moment in the spotlight, as “the soft glow of electric sex gleaming in the window” of Ralphie Parker’s boyhood home.
“Major Awards” have a way of sticking with us long after they are broken and discarded. We love to be recognized. And so I am honored to accept and proudly display the nomination of the Sunshine Award. Here’s how it’s done: First, thank the blogger who nominated you and provide a link to their blog. Second, answer a list of ten interview questions about yourself. Third, nominate ten blogs that have inspired you in some way, link to them and let them know you’ve nominated them.
So, thank you very much to Map of Time! Your posts are so thoroughly researched and informative, that really, they put mine to shame.
And the answers to the ten interview questions:
What is your favorite color? That perfect shade of pink nightmare, just right for footed bunny pajamas.
What is your favorite animal? Victor, the Lone Ranger’s nephew’s horse.
What is your favorite number? This is a slight breach of etiquette, but I’m going right for the throat with the triple dog dare.
What is your favorite drink? It was before my time, but I just know I would have been a big fan of blue cream Nehi. Rumor has it would even turn your teeth blue!
What is your favorite pattern? Soda bottle fishnets.
What is your passion? Thatyearly bacchanalia of peace on earth and good will to men.
Do you prefer a good movie or a good book? I love it when a good book becomes a good movie. It rarely happens the other way around.
Would you rather give or receive a gift? I love to give that unexpected surprise gift that someone has always wanted, like a “Red Ryder BB Gun with a compass in the stock and this thing which tells time.”
What is your favorite day? Christmas, of course!
What is your favorite flower? I’m quite fond of yellow daisies. Isn’t it pretty?
Finally, my nominations. One of the best parts about blogging is discovering the work of so many other talented writers. From among many, I have chosen ten that each inspire me in different ways. They all get an A+++++++++++++++++++ in my book.