When I was growing up, I spent Christmas with my family in Henderson, North Carolina. We would pile into my grandparents' small house along with uncles, aunts, cousins, and dogs. It was crazy, but it was incredibly fun.
One particular Christmas stands out because it was the year that I saw Santa Claus. I was making a futile attempt to sleep on Christmas Eve . . . when what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer. Seriously. I was staring out a window when I saw something fly through the sky that bore an awfully strong resemblance to Jolly Old St. Nick and his sleigh.
I jumped out of bed and ran screaming into the kitchen to report the news to my parents. Thirty years later, I can only imagine what was running through their heads as I excitedly told them about seeing Santa. Anyways, it has become part of Michels family lore. Now my mother loves telling my son about the year that I saw Santa Claus.
Thanks to a pair of British researchers, we now know what Santa really looked like. Professor Caroline Wilkinson and Mark Roughley of the new Face Lab at Liverpool John Moores University's created this facial depiction of St. Nicholas using 3D interactive technology and a facial reconstruction system:
The "real" Santa looks more like a member of the Robertson family of Duck Dynasty fame than the pleasantly plump, red-suited, white bearded figure that we know today.
Our modern notion of Santa is largely the result of Coca-Cola ads from the 1930's. In 1931, Coca-Cola commissioned a Swedish illustrator and American artist named Haddon Sundblom to create a wholesome Santa who was both realistic and symbolic. Sundblom drew on Clement Clark Moore's 1822 poem "A Visit From St. Nicholas" (commonly called "'Twas the Night Before Christmas") for inspiration. This resulted in the iconic image of a big, jolly man in the red suit with a white beard. This video tells the story:
The enduring popularity of Coca-Cola's Santa Claus eventually led to the filing of a federal trademark application in 2002. U.S. Reg. No. 3,121,372 for the Coca-Cola Santa Claus issued in 2006 for a variety of goods, including mugs. Below is an example of use. Makes you want to drink Coke out of a coffee mug, doesn't it?
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