At Christmastime who do you picturedrinking Coca Cola: Santa Claus or a Polar Bear?
The answer is pretty generational. From the time of W. Clement Moore’s poem that starts “’Twas the night before Christmas…” the portrayal of Santa Claus has varied from “a right jolly old elf” to the mental picture of Santa those of us of a certain age have of him that was inspired by a Michigan native of Swedish descent named Haddon Sundblom. Sundblom had been approached by the Coca Cola Company in 1931 to create the definitive Santa, and show him drinking Coke. During the next thirty-five Christmas seasons Santa, who bore an interesting likeness to his illustrator, would find Coke relaxing or energizing or something to share – depending on the Coke message at the time. After a variety of alternative approaches, Coke tasked the Creative Artists Agency, normally a firm that represented Hollywood stars, with the assignment of coming up with something different for the 1993 Coke Christmas campaign. The result was Polar Bears, animated to be sure, but definitely Polar Bears. Since then the bears have made periodic appearances in Coke messages, improving in their abilities as computer animation has evolved.
On the other hand…
If you ever read The Saturday Evening Post – or at least looked at the covers – whose version of Santa would pop up in your head? Norman Rockwell, of course, the man who painted 327 covers for the Post from 1916 to 1963.
“I saw Mommy kissing Santa Claus, underneath the mistletoe last night…”
Why there, in particular? The legend of mistletoe goes way back to the days of the ancient Scandinavians. The spirit of Mistletoe was supposed to have killed the god of the sun, Baldur the Beautiful, resulting in all of those long nights. On the other hand, Mistletoe was also called Allheal because of its mysterious powers to cure many ailments – even that of the human spirit. This latter virtue made its way across the North Sea to England where maidens would stand coyly under a double wreath of the dark green leaves and little white berries awaiting kisses from all comers. While the custom remains to this day, it has been watered down by a number of forces and an unknowing bystander who happened to be positioned under the Mistletoe might slap a harassment suit on the lad who gave her a kiss on the cheek in the spirit of the season.
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