It seems to be a widely believed fact that the modern-day image of Santa, or more properly Father Christmas here in the UK, came about following adverts for Coca-cola in the 1930s.
My sister, for one, was refusing to believe me that this wasn't the case when the subject came up in the approach to Christmas last year. But it's true, she said, I read it recently - Santa was depicted in other colours until Coke made him red in their advertising campaigns of the 30s.
This was the proof I offered her that this just isn't the case. This picture is by one of my favourite Victorian artists, Lizzie Mack (nee Lawson) from a book called Old Father Christmas from 1888:-
He's looking pretty much like he does today here, doesn't he - but this is 40 years or so before Coke's advertising campaigns. So what's the real story?
The colours of Santa Claus are widely thought to derive from the original Saint Nicholas, who was the Bishop of Myra in the 4th century. Red and white were the hues of traditional bishops' robes, although some historians argue that he originally dressed in different colours.
There was little variation in the red outfit worn, although over time the bishop's cloak and mitre were replaced by the fur-trimmed suit.
There are records, and indeed vintage pictures, cards and postcards which depict Santa in other colours such as green and blue but by far the most popular was the red outfit we're familiar with today.
This is one of the 1930s Coke adverts:-
Between 1863 and 1886, Thomas Nast produced a series of engravings for Harper's weekly, developing an image very similar to the modern day one - and from these engravings the idea of Santa's workshop and writing letters to Santa developed.
This is one of Thomas Nast's coloured engravings from Harper's Weekly 1865:-
As you can see, Santa was Santa long before Coke came along! Coca-Cola's involvement begins in the early 1930s when Swedish artist Haddon Sundblom started drawing ads for Coke showing a fat Santa in a red coat trimmed with fur, fastened with a large belt. His drawings were used by Coke for the next 30 years, well and truly cementing the image as we know it.
You can get the uncompressed Lizzie Mack and Thomas Nast Santa images on our Vintage Christmas DVD at www.printableheaven.com/pdildvd.