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Saturday, December 24, 2016

Weird Santas

From the moment Haddon Sundblom's iconic Santa Claus started
drinking Coca-Cola, his image would never be the same again.
How quickly we went from
Sundblom to this.
Judging by the indignities perpetuated by artists on the image of Santa Claus this time of year, you would think he was running for President of the United States. A few years ago some wise guy labeled Santa the most famous man who never lived. That would put him ahead of such diverse figures as Superman, Uncle Sam, and Mickey Mouse. Artists have long taken on iconic figures for fun and profit from cartoon characters to literary figures the likes of Tarzan, Peter Pan, and the Lone Ranger with their sharpened pencils and dripping pens. But no one, not even the Devil himself, has been such a maligned victim of abuse as the fat old man with the long white beard and the bright red overcoat. Today, in this searing Christmas Eve expose', I intend to bring to light the worst transgressions of past artist in their desperate efforts at character assassination in the hope each one will be brought to justice (or at least receive in their Christmas stocking this year the lump of coal they so richly deserve).

The Creation of Adam was probably not a Christmas gift, but
as for Emanuel Leutze...well, his event did, in fact, take
place on Christmas Eve.

Cartoonist Thomas Nast's
Santa Claus set the standard
Where did it all begin, this desecration of our sacred Santa Claus? Well, certainly not with Haddon Sundblom, who, as much as anyone else, was responsible for etching into our popular culture during the 1940s and for twenty years thereafter, the jolly old man in the bright red suit who just happened to guzzle Coke. The late 19th-century cartoonist Thomas Nast (right) had something to do with it. Despite the two examples above, we can be fairly certain that Michelangelo and Eman-uel Leutze (above) were above reproach (those images are of digital origin). Actually, Santa Claus has never had a single, "etched in Stone" image. Most countries within the realm of Christianity have slightly different images of Santa (below). The Irish pose him in a green suit, the Scottish in a kilt, the French turn him into a chef, while the Germans see him as rather "imperial."
Does Santa change his outfit whenever he crosses a border?
In some ways, Santa is a lot like God--everyone sees him a little differently. In reality, there is far more truth to that statement than many evangelical Christian denominations would like to admit. When I was growing up, the highlight after our Christmas eve church services was the arrival of Santa Claus passing out bags of candy and popcorn balls. Today most such denominations would be horrified at such a tradition within their church. What happened? I'm not sure, but I think Gene Autry, the singing cowboy, may have had something to do with it. His children's Christmas ditty, Here Comes Santa Claus bore the lyrics:
"He sees you when your sleeping.
He knows when you're awake.
He knows when you've been bad or good,
So be good for goodness sake."
Elders and deacons all across America quickly came to the realization that children might easily equate God and Santa Claus, and upon realizing the mythology surrounding the latter, might easily extend the same thinking to the former. Despite his Christian origin as St. Nicholas, Santa Claus got kicked out of the church accompanied by the theme song, Put Christ Back into Christmas. The satirical Creation of Adam, seen earlier, is a direct reference to this thinking. In less than a decade, Santa Claus was relegated to gilt thrones in department stores and his own float in a big Thanksgiving Day parade in New York City. Moreover if Santa could sell Coca-Cola and improve holiday traffic in department stores and malls, then retailers reasoned he could sell virtually any product to which his name and some semblance of his traditional visage could be attached. Poor Santa's image, reputation, and character went downhill from there.
He's not God, but Santa Claus makes an excellent super hero.

Probably for "breaking and entering."
Once Santa Claus "fell from grace," his image quickly slipped from bad to worse. Artists, in search of holiday hu-mor, began depicting him as a drunken bum passed out in an alley (below), or utilizing bathroom facilities (bottom), or arrested for felonies and misdemeanors (left). And finally, nowadays, he's car-icaturized as despicable presidential politicians. I know...the election is over, but it was fun while it lasted.

That's not Coca-Cola in the bottle.
Poor Santa, is this
any way to treat a
cultural icon?

Cookies and milk all night long
can have their effect.


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