Santa Claus is widely portrayed as a joyful plump old man with a burly white beard who wears a red suit with white fur-cuffed collars and boots. But before the Coca-Cola company painted this very image of Santa, the jolly gift-giver was often depicted in a variety of ways, one of which was a scary elf.
While it is true that Coca-Cola popularized the modern-day image of Santa as a tubby old man with a white beard through advertising, the color of his signature suit, red, actually predates their promotions. The legendary figure has appeared in red prior to Coca-Cola's ads.
Before Santa became known as a friendly old man who went around giving gifts, he was once drawn with a bishop's robe and at some point with a Norse huntsman's animal skin. Civil War cartoonist Thomas Nast also had several takes on the legendary figure, an elf-like figure among others. Through the years, Nast's depiction evolved. From wearing a tan-colored coat, the man eventually donned the red suit that everyone recognizes today.
The political cartoonist and Louis Prang, who is often dubbed as the father of the American Christmas Card, are among those who made notable illustrations of Santa in a red suit before Haddon Sundblom's take became widely popular.
It was in Dec. of 1931 when Coca-Cola debuted Sundblom's illustration of Santa, whose image was inspired from Clement Clark Moore's poem titled "A Visit from St. Nicholas," better known as "Twas the Night Before Christmas."
Santa Claus' tale is inspired by Saint Nicholas of Myra, who is admired for his kindness. Legend has it, the man used his inheritance to help the poor and the sick across the countryside. After years of helping those in need, he became known as protector of children and sailors.