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We accept that the colour of clothing can change over time. What started out as a black top, no matter how careful we may be, will be a little less black and a bit more like dark grey after a few years of wear. But even so, it’s quite extreme to go from green to red, which is what Father Christmas did. He may be a jolly man in a red suit with white fur now, but when he first appeared on the scene he was actually a vision in green.
A lot of people who know about this change have laid Santa’s change of costume at the feet of Coca-Cola. It was thought that the clever marketing people at Coca-Cola thought that by linking Santa to Coke by putting him in a red suit the same shade as their brand colour, would promote the company better. So in 1931 the company commissioned Swedish-American artist Haddon Sundblom to create a Father Christmas for their seasonal adverts. Sundblom’s creation was a happy grandfatherly figure with a fluffy white beard and a scarlet suit.
Long before this, throughout many centuries, Father Christmas has been depicted in all kinds of ways. He’s been tall and lean, muscular and hardy, intelligent, shy, friendly, fierce; you name it, there’s probably a picture of him to match somewhere or other. But most commonly, especially in Scandinavian countries, Father Christmas traditionally wore green. This tied him to the forest and helped symbolise his links with nature and the changing seasons. Father Christmas brought green foliage and new gifts into the dark winter months. This idea was brought to Britain back when the Vikings invaded and it has been here ever since. Or until 1931 anyway.
But while Sundblom may have popularised the scarlet Santa and been seen as the one to permanently dye his kit red, he wasn’t the first to think of him in this colour. St Nicholas, who was the real historical figure who Santa Claus is based on, was originally seen as wearing red, since that was the colour of the religious robes he would have worn for his role as the Bishop of Myra in Turkey in the 3rd Century.
Santa may not have always been the jolly old man with the laughing face and round belly in a bright red suit, but most people can agree that nowadays it’s strange to think of him in any other way.