Santa Claus is probably the most recognizable figure in our society. What with the bushy beard, the bright red suit with furry white trim and his trademark sleigh, it's easy to pick him out of a crowd. Most people are unaware, however, that our current version of Santa Claus is a relatively recent invention and, worse, yet, it was created by an advertising campaign! As Christmas approaches, let's take a look at the evolution of this beloved individual and examine who he was and what he has become.
One of the earliest depictions of Santa Claus came from the artist Thomas Nast who shows him handing out gifts to Civil War soldiers.
Nast refined his Santa image and is partly responsible for institutionalizing the bushiness of his beard and the rotundness of his silhouette.
Much of our awareness of Santa Claus came from a poem originally published in 1823 by Clement Clarke Moore but widely reprinted around 1900.
Thomas Nast's illustrations for "A Visit From St. Nicholas" (later called 'The Night before Christmas') show Santa with his beard and pipe but his outfit is definitely brown.
Probably the most common color of Santa's robe was green in the many depictions of him during that same period.
Santa styling out in purple.
The Germans thought a tasteful blue was the right color for their Santa, but many other colors and styles of robe were pictured.
Psychedelic Santa - He appears here with a red suit but with purple trim.
During World War I, the Germans dressed Santa in an army uniform.
Most pre-modern depictions of Santa show him looking more like a peddlar than we see him today.
The Classic - There were of course pictures of Santa in red, as well, but it took the Coca-Cola company to firmly establish it as the only color. This was part of an extended advertising campaign and Coke commissioned some of the best illustrators of the day to create the "new look".
It was not coincidental that red was chosen as the color for Santa since that was the color of the Coca-Cola logo.
Once the standard was established, other artists took their turn at illustrating the famous figure, but the basics of the costume have remained the same.
Over the years attempts have been made to keep Santa up-to-date. Here he is shown delivering presents in an early automobile instead of a sleigh.
Here, Santa shuns the traditional Santa Claus letter for the newfangled telephone that everyone seemed so crazy about.
Santa the Party Animal
Maniacal Santa - Would you accept gifts from this man?
Patriotic Santa - Does he change flags when flying to other countries?
Abductor Santa Claus - Here he experiments with a new way of dealing with those naughty kids!
Peeping Tom Santa - Better keep those curtains closed!
Hilarious Santa - I wish I know what was so funny.
Skydiving Santa - This is just wierd.
Salesman Santa - Who wouldn't trust a sales pitch from the most loved man in the world?
Movie Star Santa - Despite a government coverup, now the truth can be told.
Homeless Santa - The economic crisis is affecting everybody.