The Life and Bitter Times of Father Christmas.


TOP ROW, 01 advert for Pennsylvania Railroad December 1947, 23 x 27 cms

04 Odder and odder, it is possible to encounter Santa in multiplicity. Three have turned up in your living room. One hushes, one listens and another smokes. They seem oblivious to the TV screen which, like a security camera, shows another Santa. Full Page ad for Admiral Triple Thrill Magic Mirror Television .

SANTA AT THE FRIDGE The defining image of Santa Claus, December 1st 1951, full page ad., COCA COLA. A beautifully painted image in the painterly tradition of Sundblom. "The model for Santa Claus for years was a retired salesman named Lou Prentice, who embodied all the features and spirit of Santa Claus, including the wrinkles which were so evident when he smiled or laughed. Lou passed away several years ago and since that time I have been using my own face as model." Harold Sunblom.

TOP ROW, 02 Full page advert for Budweiser Lager Beer , Dec 19th 1950. And the most hirsute of all Santas in the marketplace - his eagerness of hospitality extending with every horizontal tuft at eyebrow and lip. The drooping duck neck takes the eye down to the rest of the ad and the slogan, "Something more than beer . . . A Tradition in Hospitality". Unknown illustrator but well conceived gesture.

Full page advert for Brunswick Mineralite Bowling Balls , "The Number One Name in Bowling", November 27th 1948. The way he holds it, you know he's handled these things before. The illustrator F.M.Davis hasn't drawn a sheet of paper before. Try and get your fingers around the paper like Santa - I suspect Mr.Davis feels uneasy with thumbs.

The British Santas are altogether more "Gentlemen" and it is rare to see such greed and hysterical jollity as is pictured in US ads. These Santas are from the Squirearchy not the Asylum. detail of Gillette Razor advert, November 1950, designed by Tom Eckersley. The detail meaures 10 x 10 cms. Also in this section detail from an advert for Austin Reed, Tailors. November 19th 1952 measuring 11 x 15cms. Compare this benevolence with the Santa who broadcasts to American Housewives on Detergents.See also detail from another Austin Reed Christmas advert Novemeber 24th 1954.


The Father here revealed is drawn in the generally highly erotic Barbasol adverts, where the product used by Man delights the Woman. "Just what I wanted . . . a Barbasol face ! Yes, whiskers come off fast when you use Barbasol." December 3rd 1949

Whispering Santa, detail from an advert for Silex Kitchen Equipment , December 9th 1950; "Solve Your Gift Problem with Silex" ; Santa Claus' characterisation is distinctly odd with access to people's houses and some very curious apparel. His erotic appeal, at first glance, seems negligeable. Yet of course he can be the Father in disguise. Here Santa has slipped behind the Housewife whose only Christmas dream is a better cooking experience, and whispers in her ear, the soft sweet seductive voice - in a sort of secular Annunciation.

Full page Advert for Chesterfield Cigarettes , Liggett & Myers Tobacco Co., December 1955. And about as mad a depiction of the old gentleman as you can get; the inner turmoil seems to materialise in ribbon around his flushed features. This image is the most extreme version of the fragmentation of the face into a catalogue of wrinkles and and pendulous lobes of flesh - all convincing us of his JOLLITY. But so disturbing the crazed eyes and WET LOWER LIP.


December 1949 advert for Barbasol 12 x 26cms


There is a long and distinguished tradition of thoroughly undermining everything that Santa Claus stands for in the pursuit of commercial profit. Over the years, Santa Claus/Father Christmas has been called upon to front some odd products, and, in the process, end up in some odd poses.

TOP LEFT Full page advert for Aetna Casualty Insurance , December 1964, and a visual metaphor for Capitalists at Christmas. Macabre gutted version of Santa, rather like the flayed skin of Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel. The Tale unfolds, that their client wanted them to check on Christmas season bonus cheques sent to the disabled workers. It has resulted in a sensational image of a sort of gawky guffawing Santa with one thin leg. Bless the Season.


"I Saw Mummy Kissing Santa Claus"

"A Message from Santa Claus to every Husband who Really Loves His Wife". Full page Advert for ALL a detergent for automatic washing machines, November 29th 1952, "No doubt about it my friend the modern automatic washer is the cleverest piece of time and wife-saving machinery since running water. Greatest boon to women since the discovery of kissing". Santa, you Old Dog.  


Clement C.Moore , The Night before Christmas, published anonymously in 1823 in the Troy Sentinel, and was most famously illustrated by W.W. Denslow. in 1902 (Dillingham NY)
The description of Saint Nick;

His eyes how they twinkled; his dimples how merry !
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry !
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow.
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;....
He had a broad face and a little round belly
That shook, when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself.
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;...




Miracle on 34th Street (Edmund Gwenn)
The Lemon Drop Kid (Bob Hope)
The Light at Heart (Monty Wooley)
Babes in Toyland

FILMS; Christmas

Meet Me in St Louis
The Holly and the Ivy
It's a Wonderful Life
The Bells of St.Mary
White Christmas

Time and Symbolism

James Bentley, A Calendar of Saints , Orbis London 1986
Lawrence Wright, Clockwork Man; The Story of Time, its origins, its uses, its tyranny Barnes & Noble NY 1992
Arnold Whittick, Symbols, Signs and Their Meaning
, Hill London 1960.

Steven Heller, Artists' Christmas cards, New York, 1979
William Waits, The Modern Christmas in America , New York Univ.Press NY 1993
J.M.Golby, and A.W.Purdue, The Making of the Modern Christmas , Batsford ,London 1986
Cecil Munsey, The Illustrated Guide to the Collectibles of Coca-Cola Hawthorn NY 1972.
Marcel Mauss, The Gift, New York 1967, a psychological study of giftgiving.
David Cohen(ed) Christmas in America , Collins, San Fra.1988

c300AD Saint Nicholas, Bishop of Myra. 1800-1880, hand made presents, kids enjoy licence in time and sweets, the spectre of Santa's vengeance. Early Santas are small elves with presents and switches. 1863; Thomas Nast's drawings for Harper's of Santa Claus (the new term for Saint Nicholas) 1880's the mechanisation of presents.
1900 the urbanisation of the American Christmas and the department store character. 1914; the formation of the Santa Claus Association (until 1928) to preserve belief.
1930, Coca Cola's first Santa. 1931 Coca Cola redraws Santa, Haddon Sundblom of Ayers of Chicago. 1937, the first Santa training school at Albany NY Salvation Army gives up on the SC figure because of proliferation.
1954, three Santa schools.
1957, Boston restricts SCs to one on the common.