Why is Santa fat? Addressing the most pressing question of the holiday season.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

I don't mean to be mean to the poor guy, but let's be real: Santa Claus works one full day OF THE YEAR. We all know his elves are the overworked interns actually figuring out who gets what, building the toys by hand, managing the lists of naughty and nice in gigantic Excel spreadsheets (The North Pole is clearly way on top of its technology game. How could it not be when most children want a cellphone, laptop, iPad, or iPod under the tree – amirite?) So, Santa presumably has 364 days to do whatever the heck he wants; but, what does he do? Based on pictures, one answer is clear: not exercise. But why not?

Santa being constantly portrayed as fat actually adds a number of considerations to his otherwise entirely believable annual routine:

1. Could Santa ever conceivably fit down ANY chimney? I don't think I could fit my left thigh into a chimney these days. But this element of the story is made even less believable by his size.

2. A sleigh flying full of presents for 6 billion people seems slightly impractical, but now they are also lugging around a large, round man? At this point, I'm wondering if reindeer do everything they can to avoid that job. Maybe Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, et al. drew the short straws? Are there reindeer unions?

3. Why do we leave him cookies? It seems if there's one thing he has enough of, it's cookies. Some scientists calculated that Santa Claus eats 38 billion calories Christmas Eve. 

Yet, sure as the fact that people will trample one another on Black Friday over a television set, Santa Claus will be perpetually portrayed as being overweight. But why? To answer this question I turned to the ultimate source of truth for all things: the internet.

Let's go back to a time pre-tweets and blogs and even televisions: 1822. What does one do without the constant distraction of screens? Read poems, of course. A poem is anonymously published (and later attributed to Clement Clarke Moore). The famous poem introduces St. Nick arriving at a house on Christmas eve via a flying sled and 8 reindeer, going down the chimney, and filling up stockings. It also mentions children dreaming of sugar plums. The poem, of course, is A Visit From St. Nicholas commonly known as its first line, "Twas the Night Before Christmas."

This poem includes a few St. Nick's physical attributes:

"He had a broad face and a little round belly
That shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf, 
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself"

So that's it? A poet said he had a little round belly and he was forever portrayed as chubby? Not so fast. This wouldn't be a part of American culture without a role from a corporate giant. 

That's right, different illustrations emerged of Santa over the years, but in 1931 Coca Cola enlisted illustrator Haddon Sundblom to whip up some cheerful looking Coke-drinking Santas for Coca Cola ads. And thus began 35 years of Sundblom making original Santa Claus paintings for Coke, imprinting a fat, jolly, white-beared, big-belted Mr. Claus into our holiday season for, well, ever:

So, yep, Coca Cola is even responsible for making Santa Claus fat. Thanks, Coca Cola! Tis the season for over-indulgence, my friends. Pop open another soft drink and have a Merry Christmas!

1 comment:

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