Christmas doesn't need a Coca-Cola tradition

I KNOW millions of boys and girls are on their best behaviour at the moment, in the hope that their names are included on Santa’s list. But I’m going to shatter some illusions about him. It’s time they knew the truth about Santa.

There’s no evidence at all that his coat is red and lined with white fur. It’s sure to be warm, thick and heavy, considering the weather in the northern hemisphere on his busiest day of the year. But we don’t know for sure if it is red and white.

The artist Thomas Nast portrayed him that way, but also rendered his outfit as tan or green in some drawings. It was Coca-Cola that popularised the idea that he dresses in red and white, by running a 30-year ad campaign in which Santa is shown sporting the colours of their brand. Now it’s so firmly embedded in our minds that it’s impossible to imagine him in anything else.

The company succeeded in creating a traditional image that’s reflected on Christmas cards, wrapping paper and decorations across the Christmas-celebrating nations of the world. And over the last nine years Coca-Cola have been trying to create another tradition on which to promote their sugary beverage: the “Coca-Cola Christmas truck”. It set off on its journey around Britain’s town centres and supermarket car parks two weeks ago, and will grind to its final halt in London on Sunday, December 15.

It’s not coming to Cumbria. The nearest it gets to us are visits to Manchester and Liverpool. Though it’s the ninth tour of the country, the TV ad campaign featuring a giant Coke lorry driving through a snowy landscape first began in 1995.

The company are evidently pleased with it. On their website they declare excitedly: “The countdown to Christmas has now officially started!” So it doesn’t “officially” start until their lorry sets off. And to show how caring they are, they are promising to donate 10p to homeless charity Crisis for every drinks can visitors add to their recycling bins.

Considering the money they stand to make from the nationwide tour, this may amount to a drop in the ocean – though I suppose it’s better than nothing. The scheme, Coca-Cola add, isn’t just to help the homeless. It also forms part of their “World Without Waste” campaign.

But before we start thinking of the red and white company as green as well, consider the fact that Coca-Cola is named as the world’s largest plastic producer. Or there’s this lorry. It is travelling more than 3,000 miles up and down the country three times.

According to environmentalists at businesswaste.co.uk that’s the same as driving from London to Moscow and back. It will burn 1,305 litres of diesel – the cost of which could provide shelter and food for 60 homeless people. Council leaders don’t have the power to ban the Coca-Cola lorry from their areas, but two years ago those in Cumbria made it clear that it wasn’t welcome here.

There were the inevitable, predictable complaints about the “nanny state” dictating our choices. But we’re in the midst of a childhood obesity crisis and in a few years the NHS is going to have to deal with the consequences. Banning the Coke lorry mightn’t solve the problem.

But it certainly won’t do any harm. What do those decrying the nanny state suggest we do about it instead? There are all kinds of traditions associated with Christmas – turkey, plum pudding, mulled wine, pantomimes, Salvation Army bands playing Christmas carols and pine needles clogging up the vacuum cleaner.

Different countries have different ones. We don’t need another one based on a TV advert for a fattening, teeth-destroying soft drink. Coca-Cola has form on this of course.

In 1996 – when football was coming home – it tried to create a natural association between its American product and our national sport. Those of us old enough will remember the campaign that declared: “Eat football. Sleep Football.

Drink Coca-Cola.” Yet one way to ensure you’re not in shape to play football is to guzzle Coke.

There’s only one way of knowing whether Santa wears the Coca-Cola colours, and that’s to ask him.

But he’s bound to be far too busy to answer calls at this time of year.

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