Design for the Real World: Santa
Design guru Steven Heller explains how Father Christmas became branded as a jolly bearded old man in a red suit.
Heller says Santa was derived, "as a symbol from around 300 A.D. -- it was originally Saint Nicolas. He arrived presumably on a flying chariot, which became a sleigh. He was a bishop, so he wore a miter... the Santa Clause hat is a derivation of the miter.
"He is also connected to other gods and deities in other religions -- Thor in Germany dressed in red, and had a palace in the Northland, and he rode a chariot, and he had a beard.
"What really codified Santa Clause in Western culture is Clement Clark Moor's 1822 poem -- and that became the basis for the image, the logo Santa Clause, that was designed by Thomas Nast. Thomas Nast was known for creating the Democratic donkey and the Republican elephant, so he created this jolly, gnome-like character -- huge white beard, red coat, framed and trimmed with black and white, and that became the image that was forever impressed on the American holiday.
"Then in 1931, the Coca-Cola Company adopted it. They took over, basically the same image as Thomas Nast's, and puffed him up a bit, gave him rosy cheeks, and created a new Santa as their annual trade character. And from that point on, Santa Clause holding a Coke with a happy child here, and a happy adult there, became the epitome of what the American Santa Clause was.
"The most significant thing about Thomas Nast's design is that it wasn't Christian. It was a universal happy fella -- he didn't look like Jesus Christ, he didn't look like Moses -- this was a character that everybody could love ... the image hasn't changed much because it is one of the most comforting images that we can offer. There is a kind of intimacy that you have with this character, even if you don't believe it, you still like seeing it, you like having it around."
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