You pulled a fast one this week, Steve (Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe #543) I’ve written posts for my blog on the subject of Santa Claus, and I even reference the same source material that Snopes.com references for their article. While it may be strictly true that Coca-Cola did not ‘create’ the modern image of Santa Claus with a specific campaign, they have shaped the image of Santa Claus with their promotions over the years. So much so that the image most people have for Saint Nick is the Coca-Cola image specifically.
I dispute both Snopes’ ruling of false and your using this as the fiction for this weeks SGU podcast on that basis alone. The article on Snopes’ site might be more persuasive if the example images for their arguments actually loaded. But I doubt it.
I agree there is ambiguity in saying that Coca-Cola created the modern image. They contributed to an iterative process, perhaps substantially.
That is exactly why I included the additional line that prior to Coke the image of Santa was tall and thin. That part made it unequivocally fiction. The elements of the modern Santa predate Coke. Coke just put together one artist’s conception of Santa.
…as I said previously, the notation that he was ‘tall and thin’ previous to the Coca-Cola campaign being the fiction would carry more weight if the Snopes article actually loaded the photos of what Santa looked like before the campaign. As it is I have to go find images myself, and having dived into this subject a few times now I have to say that research on this subject is made more difficult by the number of people who seem to think they know something about the subject writing contradictory articles about it.
Like the subject of Christmas (or Yule) itself, separating fact from fiction is a laborious process.
(feedback exchange with the SGU)
Editor’s note. In this exchange of messages with Dr. Steven Novella I failed to mention that both my grandmother and her sister had wood carvings of Santa Claus that they displayed during the Christmas season. In both cases the carvings looked very old and they were both of a tall and thin bearded man. These two anecdotal experiences do not equate to a general pattern of perception, but it does lend weight to the belief that one might have about Santa Claus as being a tall, thin man if you had seen nothing but these kinds of icons representing Santa in your family.
I still dispute the finding. I’ve never gotten the page at Snopes.com to load properly until today. The variance in the red costume, wide belt, whiskers and ruddy complexion are negligible. So Coca-Cola did not create the image. Fine. Some of the images are not of a grossly fat man, though. This confuses the question as presented by Steve in that Science or Fiction. My verdict stands.