We all have our Christmas traditions and rituals with some of these being very personal to ourselves and loved ones with others based on our religion, national history and folklore. Christmas is a time for mince pies, turkey, Brussel sprouts (oh no I hear my 11 year old daughter shout), Christmas trees, Christmas carols (oh YES I hear my father in law shout, I’m taking the Brussel sprout stance of our daughter on this one), Santa Clause, Rudolf and other assorted Reindeer. Looking at Rudolf and Father Christmas I was surprised to learn that both characters had either been created or had a face lift as part of marketing and advertising campaigns within the early/mid 1900’s, making both characters relatively new additions to our Christmas traditions.
Starting with Father Christmas, you know him, fat guy, white beard, wears a red suit, however where does this image come from? Looking at early illustrations pre 1930’s you will see that he is not only garbed in various colours but also appears in a variety of shapes and sizes, slim, fat, old, young, bearded, clean shaven and it has only been in the mid 20th Century that a “standard” Santa has really existed.
The shift in both appearance and clothing colour scheme are attributed to the Coca-Cola Company, who used him for a Christmas Advertising campaign in 1930. Coca-Cola commissioned a Swedish American artist called Haddon Sunblom who “redesigned” him in the red and white (Coca-Cola’s corporate colours) and gave him the jolly fat “grand fatherly” image that we have all come to associate with the Father Christmas of today.
This now brings us to our second well known and loved Christmas character, Rudolf the red nose reindeer. Rudolf is an instantly recognised figure the world over and is again synonymous with Christmas. Rudolf, unlike his boss, is a relatively recent invention however and has only been around for the past 80 years or so. Rudolf was created for a Chicago based retailer, Montgomery Ward, by Robert L May.
Montgomery Ward give away colouring books for Christmas to their younger customers and in an attempt to cut the costs of purchasing these books decided to create their own. The first run in 1939, introducing Rudolf, resulted in 2.5 million copies of the colouring book being distributed by the retail chain. The rest as they say is history with Rudolf featuring in songs, books, merchandise as well as several films (I know as I have had to watch most of them with my daughter over the years).
I doubt very many of us have heard of Haddon Sunblom, Robert May or even Montgomery Ward (pretty sure most of us have heard of Coca-Cola though), but we are all very familiar with their work. In both cases advertising has taken an existing Christmas character (or created a new one) and used this to not only promote a brand but in doing so has managed to change our Christmas traditions in their native country and around the world.