With the holiday season in full stride, I present this lovely Christmas ad from 1910. The font is pretty illegible, but it’s an ad for Huyler’s candies, a company that operated a chain of candy and ice cream shops out of NYC at the turn of the century. I like this ad for a few reasons. First, it dispels the myth that Santa was created by Coca-Cola in the 1930s. Not true. Here is the Santa we all know and love, alive and well in 1910. Rudolph is missing from his herd and won’t show up for another 30 years, but the basics are all here. Certainly, Coke did its part in shaping the image of Santa we have today—red, fat, surrounded by toys, and cheerily drinking coke. But images of Santa long predate Coke’s iconic ad.
Second, this ad is great because it is so fiercely commercialist. Despite what Bill O’Reilly and Pat Robertson tell us, not much has changed about people’s attitudes toward Christmas in the last 100 years. Just like now, Christmas in 1910 was as much (or more) about lovers, family, gifts, and spending as it was about the birth of Jesus. Certainly, some savvy retailers played on the day’s religious significance to move more inventory—most famously, John Wanamaker of Philadelphia with his flagship store’s Christmas hymn-sings, pageants, and organ recitals. For most people, including Wanamaker, the religious significance of the day was always wrapped up with other concerns. Then as now, there was no separation between Christmas’s capacious Protestantism and its end-of-year splurging. In the case of this Huyler’s ad, Christmas is all about sex and candy. It assumes that its audience, like Santa, has gifts to give. People simply need to give a box of Huyler’s on top of everything else they give in order to make Christmas bright. The plump young lover (Mrs. Claus?) falls into Père Noël’s arms, coyly saying, “Oh! You dear!” Thanks to Huyler’s candy, it seems Santa will have a very merry Christmas after all.