Published In The Great North Arrow, December 2021: Delivering The Magic

 - jim Young

When most people think of Santa Claus, they picture him flying around on Christmas Eve in a sleigh pulled by eight (or nine if it’s foggy) tiny reindeer, delivering toys all over the world.

But this year, you might be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of Santa also “Delivering Magic” from a red and white Coca-Cola Holiday Truck as he tours across Canada.

Photo by Yvonne Metcalfe Images

Beginning in St. John’s Newfoundland on November 13, Santa will visit over 100 communities as he travels coast to coast, ending up in Victoria, British Columbia by mid-December, giving Santa time to make his way back to the North Pole to prepare for his world wide tour on Christmas Eve.

St. Nicholas of Myra
Santa, as we know him today, has been associated with Coca-Cola for many years and Coca-Cola is, in part, responsible for how we see Santa Claus today.

The very first Santa, St. Nicholas of Myra, was born in 280 A.D. and did not look anything at all like the Santa we know today. St. Nicholas was a tall, thin Christian Monk that morphed into Santa Claus over a period of hundreds of years. 

In 1862 the American Illustrator, Thomas Nast, who is famous for creating the Republican’s Elephant and the Democrat’s Donkey, drew his first picture of Santa Claus for Harper’s Weekly. Like many illustrators of the day and for many years before and after that time, Nast’s original Santa Claus was very evil and sinister looking, often dressed in American Patriotic stars and stripes. 

In 1881 however, Nast drew Santa Claus, using Clement C. Moore’s “A Visit From Saint Nicholas” as a guide to become the more modern Santa we have come to know and love.

It is also believed that Nast was the first to protray Santa wearing a read outfit, but since his illustrations were created in black and white, it's hard to tell for sure.
Thomas Nast's St. Nicholas 1880s

But in 1885, it was Nast who first suggested that Santa lived at

the North Pole. 

Established in the late 1800s, it wasn’t until the 1920s that

Coca-Cola first used Santa Claus in their ads. Their original

Santa was a much more “stern” looking Santa along the lines

of some of Thomas Nast’s earlier Santas.

Artist Fred Mizen created a more benign Santa for Coca-Cola

in 1930 but it was Haddon Sundblom’s Santa that he painted

for Coca-Cola every year from 1931 to 1964 that inspired our

most common modern day image of Santa Claus.

During the depression in 1934, like other artists, Sundblom

was finding the costs of canvas and paints prohibitive, so to

save money, he took his 1931 painting of Santa, added a hat,

slightly changed the position of Santa’s left arm and gave him

a whip to spur on the reindeer.

At first, Sundblom used his neighbour, Lou Prentiss, a retired Coca-Cola Salesman for his model. When Prentiss died, Sundblom became the model as he painted the pictures of Santa while looking at himself in the mirror.

In his 1954 painting, Sundblom, while looking in the mirror, accidently painted his belt buckle image backwards. It did not go unnoticed by his growing number of fans.

Haddon Sundblom and Santa Claus

Another year, Haddon Sundblom neglected to paint a wedding ring on Santa’s left hand. Concerned fans flooded Coca-Cola with letters asking “What happened to Mrs. Claus?”

Over half a century has passed since Haddon Sundblom, who passed away in 1976, created his last illustration for Coca Cola but Sundblom’s Santa lives on. And it is Sundblom’s Santa that is helping Canadians today recover from the pandemic.

After almost 2 years of lockdowns and cancelled family gatherings, Santa hopes to spread joy and optimism as part of the Magic, to Canadians at a time when they need it most. 

Attending a Christmas or Holiday event is the number one activity Canadians are looking forward to this year. While we may still need to take precautions, it's Santa’s hope that his tour will help reduce the loneliness and isolation so many Canadians have been feeling.

While in Barrie, with the support of the Barrie Chamber of Commerce and Coca-Cola, Santa visited several local businesses and schools and was pleased to discover that the people that came out to greet him were filled with determination and a commitment to overcome the hardships they have been tested with these past two years. With hope for a brighter future even businesses that are struggling for their own survival are reaching out to others less fortunate than them to give them a helping hand.

One business owner who humbly requested she not be identified, confided in Santa. “At the end of the day, only part of our success can be measured by the bottom line. It is equally important to ensure that our friends and neighbours and to some extent, even our competitors, are also successful or we do not consider our business a success at all.”

And after all isn’t that what Christmas Magic is really all about?

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