The Business of Father Christmas

Front page of Falconer’s Christmas Catalogue

Christmas means many things to many people but few would disagree that one of the most potent symbols of Christmas is its father. Otherwise known as Santa Claus, a personification of Christmas in one form or another has been part of winter festivities for hundreds of years. However it was in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries that the red suited jolly Father Christmas figure became the recognisable institution he is today. The way businesses have used Father Christmas to sell their products and promote the more commercial side of Christmas is a large factor behind this transformation.

It is therefore no surprise that Santa Claus features prominently on the cover of Christmas catalogues in our business collections, after all, he is the ultimate giver of gifts. As well as being portrayed frequently in adverts and around stores Father Christmas always found time to visit the shoppers and their children. Such is the importance of the trip to Santa’s Grotto that it has become part of Christmas tradition.

Long Johns Whisky

It is often said that Father Christmas’ red coat stems from Coca Cola’s advertising of the 1930s. Whilst that may not be wholly true it demonstrates that Father Christmas didn’t simply sell gift products but could sell anything. Most parents wouldn’t give their child a bottle of whisky from Santa and yet Santa has appeared in many drinks industry adverts such as this Long John Distilleries’ Christmas advert. Our brewing and distilling collections holds plenty of advertisements which use Father Christmas to sell their products. Father Christmas’ appeal is clearly not reserved for the young.

Father Christmas wasn’t just used as a selling tool, as a symbol of Christmas he also promoted the general feelings of goodwill and happiness that come with this time of year. Several festive editions of staff magazines from our collections have images of Santa Claus to add cheer. The success of staff magazines demonstrate their importance in working life and the festive editions prove their role in keeping up spirits. The in-jokes, shown here by the Templetonian’s Father Christmas, reveal the strong sense of community that prevailed all year round. Santa Claus was used to highlight the feeling that Templeton’s was more than a place of work to many.

1950 Templetonian Cartoon

House of Fraser Catalogue

Santa Claus’ role in celebrating Christmas is as certain as an article about the commercialisation of Christmas is in December. The festive period has undoubtedly evolved over the last century, but then so has everyday life. Christmas, and Santa Claus, simply magnify the values of that period. Whether we celebrate or critique it one thing is certain, Santa Claus is coming to town!

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