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Christmas Trivia - The Colours of Santa Claus

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Christmas Trivia - The Colours of Santa Claus

As the word looks towards London fashion week later this week, I thought it might be fun to look at why ‘Santa Claus’ usually wears red, but is occasionally seen wearing green robes. 

Did Coca-Cola turn Santa Claus red?

People often think that it was Coca-Cola who first turned Santa Claus red as a marketing pun to match their brand colours, but actually, the truth is a little muddier than that. 

The colours of Santa Claus

If we look back at the origins of Santa Claus, it is thought to have originated with Saint Nicholas, the Greek monk from 4th century, who famously helped the poor, vulnerable and sick.  His deeds were well documented throughout history, and every year he gave gifts to children who were in the most need, out of his own pocket.  Historical images show him wearing the red and white robes typical of that time, similar to those a Bishop might wear today.  However the Saint Nicholas that the Dutch especially celebrated, wore green robes and black boots, where the orthodox church was not of nearly as much importance.  It is possible that the pagan version Father Christmas who was celebrated in Britain,  wore green robes and a wreath of holly, mistletoe and ivy on his head, had integrated with the Dutch version of St Nicholas with migrations and invasions.

 When Santa went red

Nevertheless, unless images were specifically of Saint Nicholas of Greece, the images that depicted St. Nick as a gift giver to all children, were a mix of either tan and green.  Maybe the pigments used in paintings were too expensive to use red, but he remained green and tan until Thomas Nast, a political cartoonist, illustrated Clement Moore’s poem ’Twas the Night Before Christmas’ in 1881 with St. Nicholas wearing red. This was not the first time that Nast had drawn him either, the images first featuring in Harpers magazine in 1862 but wearing tan.  With the popularity of the poem for print, the image became more widely used at Christmas.

The 'standard' Santa

It was this illustration of the poem that inspired Sundblom, the man who drew Saint Nicholas in his red suit for Coca-Cola.  And although he can’t be responsible for the colour red, it is largely accredited that it was the picture Sundblom drew that standardised what this iconic figure looked like across the globe.  Coca-Cola poured so much money into advertising in the following two decades using Sundblom’s picture, that everybody who thought of Saint Nicholas, by now nicknamed Santa Claus, only saw him in a red suit, no longer in green, tan or even red robes.

 

So an interesting fashion tale for the big man himself.  Do you prefer him in green, tan or red?

 

References: Wikipedia
                    Coca-Cola Company
                    The Scotsman
                    BBC

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