Coca-Cola Polar Bears Define My Retro Christmas
I’ve collected several things in my life, some to a greater extent than others. Stamps? Not so much. Coins? For a brief time—starting with that fold-out penny holder, remember those starter kits? Baseball cards, until I reached the age of twelve or so and realized spending 50-cents a week on a seven card pack with a wretched stick of bubble gum wasn’t going to pay off in the long run.
On the other hand, there are some collections I’ve been adding to all my life. My McDonald’s Grimace collection (love the big ol’ purple guy), and of course, my Coca-Cola Polar Bear stash.
Coke’s been using bears since back in the ’20s, and rumor has it that the first polar bear to appear on a bottle popped up in France in 1929. Since then, polar bears have appeared in numerous advertising campaigns, but it was the now-legendary 1993 Northern Lights holiday spot that kicked off a love affair with the animated Coke bears that’s existed ever since.
The Northern Lights spot is pretty memorable. In it, a group of festive bears are seen watching the aurora borealis, and drinking Coca-Cola. It was well-made—the bears looked incredible—and the spot was an instant hit. I remember it well, because that Christmas, when I first spotted Coke bear merchandise, well, let’s just say that my Grimaces were gettin’ a little lonely on my shelves and leave it at that.
One of my favorite spots is the one where the young bear cubs are trying to get their Christmas tree up a hill, and though they try and try, they just can’t do it. Until a big bear comes along, and noses the tree up the hill for them, after which you see them gathered by the tree, drinking bottles of Coke. Instant classic, and I have an ornament that represents the bear family that hangs on the tree every year.
One Christmas after my collection began, my Mom got me an alarm clock with this huge Coke bear, laying on his back as if sunning himself. I didn’t need an alarm clock, having relied on the same one I’d gotten when I was 13 so I didn’t (koff-koff) get up late for school, but this one took it’s place that same Christmas afternoon. Shortly thereafter, I bought myself a Coca Cola polar bear cookie jar, even though I don’t often keep cookies around, and I already had a cookie jar. That didn’t matter, though. That cookie jar became a table staple, year-round. Heck, who needed wintertime to bust out the Coke bears?
In the years since, I’ve had Coca-Cola polar bear t-shirts; Coca-Cola polar bear window clings for my truck; a number of Coca-Cola polar bear Christmas ornaments; the entire collection of Olympic polar bears; a polar bear wall thermometer; and—thanks largely to my parents—some extraordinary Coca-Cola polar bear wind-up scenes with so much detail you’d swear you were watching ’em move in a TV commercial.
There’ve been Coke bear hats, jigsaw puzzles, buttons, (I still have a Coke bear license plate on my ’98 Isuzu pickup), plushes, music boxes, mugs and more. And, after all my collecting, and all the Christmases that have come and gone, I can still remember first seeing the bears on TV back in the early ’90s, looking up at the stars, and enjoying a cold bottle of Coke. Me? I’m diabetic, so I’m a Diet Coke guy. But I’ve always been fond of drinking ice cold Coke out of the classic shaped bottle, Mean-Joe-Green-style, and of the bears. It doesn’t matter what year it is, there’s always something new that deserves a spot on my shelf when it comes to those winter critters.
Now, when it comes time to actually find room on those shelves.
1993 Northern Lights Commercial
1997 “Christmas Tree”