It’s not fake news – maybe just a smudge of fudge over the years.
Even one of the biggest brands in the world, over time, has changed its colour, it’s name, (it’s shape….) and evolved with different cultures. But for nearly two thousand years, boys and girls, and grown-ups (and pets) know exactly what is meant by the brand of Santa. Aka, St Nicholas, St. Nick, Kris Kringle, Santa Klaus, Saint Nikolaas, Père Noël, Pelznickel, Sinterklass, Noel Baba, Mikulás, Sheng dan lao ren (meaning old Christmas man in China) or Santy (a new one on us but apparently old Christmas man in some parts of Northern Ireland).
Spoiler Alert – SANTA IS REAL
Born in Patara, (part of present-day Turkey), around 280 AD, St. Nicholas was a Christian bishop who helped the needy. He did so, all year round. After his death, the tales of his gift-giving grew and he transformed into the legendary character we know today, Santa Claus. The transformation owes a lot to the arts, and art of marketing.
Twas the night before Christmas, when all thro’ the house,
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In the hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.
A poem we all know (although it’s real title is “A Visit from St. Nicholas”). It was first published anonymously in the Troy (New York) Sentinel on December 23, 1823. It became an enduring part of Christmas traditions and reflected a parallel to the wise men bringing gifts to the baby Jesus. Because of its wide popularity, both Nicholas, the patron saint of Christmas, and the legendary figure Santa Claus were permanently linked with the holiday.
Spoiler Alert – IT WASN’T COCA-COLA WHO MADE HIS SUIT RED
That little urban myth is still taught in marketing courses. It’s not totally correct although the claim is more a bit of creative license than fake news.
The poem’s descriptions of St. Nicholas did much to establish him as the joyful, plump, toy-bearing Santa Claus of the American Christmas tradition. There is dispute as to whether the poem is written by Clement Clarke Moore or Henry Livingston, Jr.
But there is no disputing, that in 1881, political cartoonist Thomas Nast drew on the poem to create the first likeness that matches our modern image of Santa Claus. His cartoon, which appeared in Harper’s Weekly, depicted Santa as a rotund, cheerful man with a full, white beard, holding a sack laden with toys for lucky children.
Prior to Nast’s work, Santa’s outfit was tan in color, and it was Thomas Nast that changed it to red, although he also drew Santa in a green suit.
Haddon Sundblom in 1931 drew images of Santa in advertising for the Coca-Cola Company, taking his own, inspiration from the poem’s description of St Nicholas.
For many, there are commercial images which are ingrained as Christmas. It’s not just Santa. Depending upon your country of residence and upbringing, Christmas and winter holidays can mean different things. In Germany Nikolaus travels by donkey in the middle of the night on December 6 (Nikolaus Tag) and leaves little treats like coins, chocolate, oranges and toys in the shoes of good children. They also celebrate Father Christmas (Weihnachtsmann).
We learnt something about the Swedish culture from working with IKEA. The celebration of St Lucia’s Day (December 13th) comes from stories told by Monks who first brought Christianity to Sweden. And their Santa is known as Jutomtem (or Tomten) which translates as Christmas Gnome. You’ll never look at Santa the same again.
Our friends in the Armagh Planetarium welcome all ages to their digital theatre show “Mystery of the Christmas Star” which journeys back more than 2000 years to Bethlehem, to seek an explanation for the star the Wise Men followed.
Yes, Christmas represents many different things. In the emergency services and hospitals, Christmas and winter celebrations represent the busiest and often saddest time of year and it can be a particularly stressful time for those in need, feeling alone, or missing loved ones. As well as retail competing for shoppers; theatres and Santa visits, marketing campaigns compete to tackle international aid; those in need; suicide; animal welfare; domestic abuse; care for the elderly; anti-social behaviour and more. We will soon see the drive to lose weight or new years’ resolution to learn a new talent.
Mixing words and images, effect behaviours and can create change. In 2019, Fourteen Forty can build your brand to deliver the result you need.
In the meantime, from us all, we hope the Christmas holidays bring you warmth, peace and joy, in whatever guise you and your loved ones seek it.