Santa’s wink is missing. British fans of Christmas are taking to social media to vent over a change in Coca Cola’s traditional Christmas commercial that shows Santa handing a bottle of Coke to a little boy and then winking at him.
That wink from Santa is meaningful.
It has been around for a long, long time both as a gimmick in holiday advertising and as yet another means of imaging the legendary gift bringer.
But what most do not know is that Santa’s wink goes back much, much further than that.
One of the many ancient figures that make up the modern legendary character of Santa Claus is the Norse mythological figure of Odin.
He was the ruler of Asgard who was depicted anciently as a white-bearded man with magical powers. The Winter Solstice – also known as Yule – was the time when Odin led a hunting party in the sky with an eight legged horse name Sleipnir.
Nordic children were accustomed to leaving their boots by the chimney filled with carrots and hay to feed Sleipnir when Odin would come and exchange those items with gifts of candy and toys.
Santa’s wink has its origin in Odin, who famously plucked out his own eye for his Father’s wisdom, so that his remaining eye could “remain single to His glory”.
Odin is famously depicted both in ancient records and in modern big screen block busters as having only one eye. Santa’s wink is a way of acknowledging this single eye.
The modern imagery of a winking Santa comes directly from Clement Clark Moore’s Poem, a Visit from St. Nicholas, when he said,
“…He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
and I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself.
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.”
While Moore’s imaging of Santa shared only the long beard and the flying character of his gift bringing with Odin it is simple to see why modern artists and marketers were attracted to the “winking Santa”.
The image lent itself to light-hearted secrecy associated with St. Nicholas’ gift bringing, helping to advance the re-imaged Santa as jolly (St. Nicholas of old could actually be quite stern and Odin was, of course, the God of War).