Father Christmas, alias St. Nicholas existed well before Coca Cola, one thing is certain though. Santa is just another American invention!
Santa-type figures can be traced back as far as the Mesopotamians, but the first appearance of a character recognizably related to the contemporary rendering is the Dutch St. Nicholas. St. Nick first came on the scene about 400 years ago and still survives in Dutch traditions. Though Christmas is observed, it is seen primarily as a religious celebration unrelated to St. Nicholas Day (Sinterclaas), which is celebrated on December 5th.
On Sinterclaas, St. Nicholas arrives by boat from Spain and rides his white pony through towns at night, accompanied by a black slave, named Zwaart Piet (black Peter), who carries an enormous sack of toys and coal. The toys are reserved for children who have behaved well during the previous year, and are placed in wooden shoes left on the back porch for this purpose. Naughty children receive a lump of coal.
In the early 19th century, the New York Historical Society, whose members were dedicated to the Dutch traditions of their New Amsterdam forebears, adopted St. Nicholas as their patron saint. Since then St. Nick evolved over the next few years, acquiring many of his now-familiar characteristics.
In 1812, author Washington Irving depicted a flying wagon containing toys in his satirical Revised History of New York. In 1821, the wagon was replaced with a sleigh pulled by a single reindeer. Then the sleigh was retooled to include the eight celebrity reindeer we know today.
The version of a fat, jolly Santa crystallized around 1841, when a shopkeeper named J.W. Parkinson hired a man disguised as Criscringle to climb the chimney outside of his Philadelphia store. Thomas Nast, a Harpers Weekly caricaturist, added the toymaker image in 1863. Six years later, the images were published in a book, which situated the workshop at the North Pole. It is at this point that the Santa tale starts to display the underlying ideological positions of American Puritanism and some important elements are added to the myth of this newly created marketing tool. The portly girth and the red nose were added to complete the figure of an industrial capitalist.
The final touches to Santas image were added by Coca-Cola, which used him in its Christmas advertising campaigns throughout the 1930s and 40s. The now-familiar images are widely thought to have been drawn by Norman Rockwell, but were actually the handiwork of an illustrator named Haddon Sundblom (in fact, Rockwell later drew Santa Claus for competitor Pepsi).
Though the myth that Coke created Santa Claus is false, their persistent advertisements were instrumental in cementing him in the popular consciousness at a time when Christmas was making the transition from religious observance to consumer spectacle.
The social function of Santa Claus myths in the early period was to represent and reproduce the values of the Puritan bourgeoisie, a function that has been swept away and replaced by another Americanism.
Santa has left the realm of bourgeois culture and has been thrust into the economic logic of mass-consumption culture.