In A Charlie Brown Christmas (The best Christmas special ever, with the possible exception of Pee Wee's Christmas), Charlie Brown was lamenting to his best friend Linus (who grew up to make air-conditioning units) about the commercialization of Christmas. Ah, kids. What they didn't know was that Christmas had gone commercial long before 1965. Even the image of Santa that we know and love is the result of advertising.
It's ironic that Christmas commercials always seem to mimic Currier and Ives Winter in New England scenes. You know, images of snow falling on quaint, old fashioned homes while a team of Clydesdale horses make beer runs in an old wagon using their Garmin GPS units to the music of The Nutcracker? Stuff like that. But it's a little known fact that Christmas was thought of as a Pagan Holiday and was not celebrated in New England until well into the 19th Century. It didn't really get into the swing of things until the 1830's. Then, it was up to artists to give us an idea of what St. Nick looked like. So what kind of jolly old elf did Santa look like back in Victorian times? Something like this:
Yup, nothing says Merry Christmas like some gaunt old dude who looks like he's stealing your Christmas tree, don't it? Here's a guy that would definitely leave a lump of coal in your stocking. Christmas was becoming very important to merchants by the time the Civil War was over and on into the "Gilded Age". Shop keepers were using images of Santa to spur on retail sales, and relying on artist interpretations of how he looked. Thomas Nast was an editorial cartoonist in the last twenty five years of the 19th Century. It was he who thought up the plump, jolly Santa that is close to what we know now.
Gotta love a Santa that keeps his pipe lit even when a little cherub is jumping on his back! Nast's version of Kris was in use all the way into the 1920's until Coca Cola decided to jump into the holiday sales racket. They needed to show that Santa wanted more than milk and cookies to get him through the night. So they hired a marvelous illustrator by the name of Haddon Sundblom to tweak the Nast image a little. Now, this is the Santa Claus we all know and love!
Funny thing about Haddon. He not only made the iconic Santa holding the distinctive Coke bottle, but he was also well known for his depiction of other curves. It's funny that Coke used the guy that painted this to put a glimmer in Mr. Kringle's eye:
Now, that's an elf Santa can live with! Or maybe she's Mrs. Claus. After all, something has to keep Santa warm through the rest of that cold North Pole Winter!