There are a lot of things that signal the start of the Christmas season. Ignoring the stores that had crap up before Halloween, I’m talking personal things that signify the holidays. Most of my “hallmarks” of the season are small, tiny things that fall into the family traditions category. Catching glimpses of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade as I cook the Thanksgiving meal. Curling up on Thanksgiving night with hot cocoa and watching “It’s a Wonderful Life”. But there is nothing and I mean NOTHING that speaks holidays like the Coca-Cola Holiday caravan.
Although its known for its holiday commercials, Coca-Cola has one that can make me smile any time of year. It reminds me of my father, who retired from Coke. It reminds me of my childhood when my tree was covered in Coke ornaments not because they were collectible but because they were free for company employees. It reminds me of snow, crisp winter nights when magic seemed to exists all around, car drives around our small town to see Christmas lights that were so brightly colored that the houses resembled Hansel and Gretel cottages. It’s the commercial of my life, my childhood and now that of my own children as well.
Years have passed and the song was changed to its more politically correct “Holidays are Coming” but it is still the original that makes me smile, giggle and causes infectious laughter in anyone who catches me singing the tune:
Santa packs are coming, santa packs are coming
Santa packs are coming, santa packs are coming
Coming to your town
One town, look around
Cause we’re coming, coming to town
Here we come
Holiday refreshment’s what we bring
Unwrap a Santa Pack it’s always the real thing
Many people believe its just that…an advertising campaign on television. But the truth is, the Christmas caravan is REAL. Launched in November 1995, it was the brainchild of ad advertising company W.B. Doner and featured special effects designed by Industrial Light & Magic (of Star Wars fame) with over 30,000 light bulbs on a 40 foot truck. Inside the company everyone joked it was a “2 ton lite-brite on wheels”.
I was able to ride in the original trucks way back in 1995 on a Toys for Tots mission campaign in Arkansas but have not seen a single one since either on the road or on display. It travels the globe sharing happiness and good will (including its very own Santa on board) to anyone who stumbles upon it. And you do have to stumble upon it. Years ago they would post up a travel/appearance schedule but they stopped doing that once the polar bears made their debut. Although it has been renamed as a “holiday caravan” the trucks are still as magical as they once were. Finding one is like finding a piece of your childhood when believing was such a simple thing.
I never expected to see one again because the following year my father became disabled and retired from Coca-Cola after working there his entire life. A few years later, I had lost him. When the trucks were changed for polar bears the same year, it was like a whole era had ended. He was gone, the trucks were gone…memories of towns lighting up with joy for the holidays and giant corporate sponsored trucks delivering toys to those in need had drifted away like melting snowflakes. Good will and small town familial warmth had been replaced with a bunch of bears drinking a soda pop. It was sad in a million different ways and I’ve always done my best to hold on to the Christmas caravan beliefs and ideals no matter what life throws me.
On my recent trip to San Francisco (the week before Thanksgiving no less) I was riding with a friend heading back to the get some NaNoWriMo writing in when the rickshaw sped by a Coca Cola truck. I flipped. I literally jumped out of my seat and tried to get out of the little zipped up rain protective cover. We were quickly passed though and I was accepting that we couldn’t stop. Although I might have cried had my friend not flagged down the driver and made him stop. We walked back to the truck and sure enough, it wasn’t an illusion – 16 years after seeing my first and only Santa pack truck I had stumbled across another. It was crazy rainy and stormy and there were no activities around the truck….just a few people like myself who happened to notice it. It was just sort of there…parked like any other vehicle with no signs, no big announcement posters and only a soft, delicate Christmas song emanating from inside. Magic, I tell you. Pure magic.
For those who have never experienced the magic of the arrival (and melancholy departure) of the caravan, here’s a behind the scenes video from the German tour in 1998:
From my heart to yours, may you have a wonderful, magical Christmas season and remember that you don’t always have to see to believe.
But it does help you remember.