He’s a familiar figure we see often this time of year, and goes by many names. Whether he’s called Santa Claus, Saint Nicholas, Kris Kringle, or any other moniker, he is instantly recognizable in his red suit and hat, fluffy white beard, and plump figure. But what does Santa have to do with the history of health care?
To begin, the way that we think Santa Claus looks now is not the way he has always been portrayed– before 1931, he sometimes looked tall and skinny, or even scary! This is closer to what he looked like when Coca-Cola began featuring Santa Claus in advertisements in the 1920s. In 1931, everything changed with artist Haddon Sundblom, who was commissioned to create a more wholesome, realistic Santa for the company’s advertisements. Inspired by Clement Clark Moore’s 1822 poem commonly known as “Twas the Night Before Christmas,” Sundblom shaped the image of Santa we know today over the course of about thirty years, from the 1930s to the 1960s. Ironically enough, Santa’s red coat, which many people attribute to Coca-Cola since their company’s colour is red, appeared long before Sundblom’s famous art!
So why does the Museum of Health Care have bottles of Coca-Cola in its collections? When Coca-Cola was first sold in the late-nineteenth century, it was marketed as a patent medicine which could cure headache, neuralgia, melancholy, hysteria, morphine addiction, and more. This was because it contained cocaine, from the coca leaves from which it was made, and caffeine, from kola nuts. It was not until around 1903-1904 that the company removed cocaine from the popular drink due to changes in laws surrounding the drug.
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