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Father Christmas

When did the fat bearded, red and white Father Christmas image first become popular?

MMDE: 1850

Current: 1931

When did the image of the Father Christmas we know today become popular? We think of him as a large, rotund man dressed in red and white fur with a big jolly beard, but this image has an origin which surprises many people who just assume he's been around this way for hundreds of years.

In fact this image was popularised in the 1930's by - of all things - a Coca-Cola advertising campaign. It did exist already, having been created shortly before, but wasn't widely known until they adopted it for a 30 year plus advertising campaign.

In fact until then there was the idea of Father Christmas, but no common image of what he looked like. 

He sometimes was shown as anything ranging from a tall, priest-like figure to even a small elf!

Twas the Night Before Christmas

The first Coca-Cola ad ran in 1931, in The Saturday Evening Post.

coca cola father christmas 480x350

In fact, today there's not even a distinction between Santa Claus and Father Christmas, but there certainly was in the past. Both are drawn from a real person - Saint Nicholas, who lived in Myra in the 4th century. Father Christmas is British, and seems to have been a legend from ancient Britain where a figure believed to be Saint Nicholas would appear in the darkest mid winter. He was the pagan bringer of spring. During the Saxon era, he morphed into King Frost and was the first time the idea of him visiting homes giving presents appeared - this was already a Norse legend which merged with the pagan one. He is supposed ot only give presents to people who had been good, which changed over the years to mean children.

Santa Claus is American. He's also sometimes called Kris Kringle. His legend was imported into the US by Dutch and German settlers in the 19th century. His image was the first to show a big pot bellied man with a white beard and red coat, with the reindeer. He also gave gifts to good children.

The Coca-cola marketing campaign was just an artists impression of Santa Claus which took off with fantastic appeal, and it's the image we've all become used to, together with the merging of the two names to the level they are now interchangeable.