Santa Claus: Twentieth-Century Developments
Santa has become such a popular American institution that a multitude of training courses are now available for the thousands of people who play Santa Claus each year at public events. It has been estimated that about 20,000 “rent-a-Santas” ply their trade across the United States each year at Christmas time. Most of the training directed at these seasonal Santas teaches them how to maintain their jolly manner and appearance under pressure from the public. Practical advice, such as not falling asleep on the job, blends with bits of Santa etiquette, such as not accepting money from a parent while a child is looking on, and avoiding eating garlic, onions, or beans for lunch. Another typical teaching counsels seasonal Santas to keep their cool even if blessed by a “royal christening” from an over-excited child.
The twentieth century has witnessed only a few refinements to the basic Santa Claus myth. The most important of these was the addition of a new member to Santa’s team of flying reindeer, a gawky, young, red-nosed creature named Rudolf. Young Rudolf enjoyed instant popularity with the American public, inspiring both a popular song and a children’s television special. In addition, beginning in the 1920s the Coca-Cola Company commissioned artist Haddon Sunblom to draw a series of color illustrations of Santa Claus for an advertising campaign. Like Nast’s earlier illustrations, these drawings helped to define the image of Santa Claus in the minds of many Americans.
During the twentieth century American pop culture reached almost every part of the globe. People from all over the world can now identify the jolly chubby white-bearded man in the red suit as Santa Claus. He competes with other Christmas gift bringers, such as Grandfather Frost and La Befana, for the allegiance of people in many nations.