I can distinctively recall watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade every Thanksgiving as my family huddles around the TV with our plates full of turkey and green bean casserole. We don’t care much for the topical blow-up characters. At the end of the vast array of singers, marching bands, and floats comes the jolly ol’ Saint Nick garbed in his typical red suit and sporting a white beard all while commanding an impressively massive red sleigh and waving to the New Yorkers flocking to see him. He sits a reminder that “Christmas is right around the corner” and inevitably “consumption is right around the corner.” Already on Thanksgiving, not even into December, Santa Claus stretches his domain further to remind the American consumer that now is the buying season, the season for gift-giving predicated by gift-buying. Black Friday rings in the Christmas season and this “festivity” is none other than wild shopping and frantic purchasing in order to secure sales.
What intrigues me the most about Santa Claus is his movement away from being the moral figure that decrees you be “good for goodness sake!” but to the figure that brings gifts, eats cookies, and most importantly, signals the end of the year frantic buying. The Santa Claus of today has lost its traditional roots and placed them in the market, controlled by marketing firms and corporations enslaving the poor man to boast that their product is “Santa Approved!” The transition of Santa from his early roots in European folklore to his more modern “jolly” version is thanks to none other than Coca-Cola.
Imagine the advertisement with Santa Claus drinking a Coke. This advertisement is so iconic that I imagine you knew precisely what I was referring to. Imagine if I asked you to tell me any other ad that has lasted quite as long or hit quite as broad a demographic. The entire American people knows that Santa Claus drinks Coke. The appropriation of Santa by Coca-Cola, which the company boasts its involvement in the development of the Santa Claus of modernity, marks the seminal moment that defines Christmas as a “consuming” season rather than merely a holiday. Santa Claus’ involvement with consumption isn’t particular to Coca-Cola as many other corporations use the figure to represent the Christmas time that is accompanied with purchasing goods at their store. While Coca-Cola did not carefully orchestrate the corporatizing of Christmas, it did push it along as the use of Santa Claus to sell a product started a marketing trend that proved successful and so would inevitably be duplicated and disseminated until now it has become common place for almost every corporation to use Christmas symbols to sell their merchandise (and sometimes starting a controversy when they don’t meet consumers’ expectations of what symbols to use!).
Christmas, with Santa Claus leading the charge, symbolizes the necessity to buy, give, and subsequently to receive gifts which all have moved past their traditional roots in teaching children to do good and to avoid doing bad.