Holidays are coming… and so is that truck!

2011 Coca Cola Christmas Truck (lorry) by London's Tower BridgeJoy to the world, and free Coca-Cola to all men! That’s the festive message from one of the world’s biggest drinks brands, which is sending the iconic Coca-Cola Christmas truck up and down the country spreading all sorts of Christmas cheer.

Christmas has become a bit of a stress for most adults. Racking up credit card bills, writing endless cards to people you never see, and worrying about whether your mother-in-law will complain about the turkey and embarrass you in front of the family again all conspire to make the festive season one you’re glad to see the back of.

But the Coca-Cola truck is something special. It’s currently in the middle of a huge tour covering more than 6,000 miles in an attempt to spread as much Christmas joy – as well as free cans of Coke, Diet Coke and Coke Zero – to as many people as possible.

And boy does it work! When they first see the red tractor unit and trailer, covered in lights, grown men and women are visibly overcome with excitement as they go misty-eyed over memories of seeing Coke’s Christmas truck advert on the TV for the first time. For millions of people, Christmas doesn’t start until that advert does.

People in the middle of busy schedules almost literally drop everything to get closer, to take a photo or to call friends and tell them.

I hitched a ride on board the wagon as it rolled its way through Swindon town centre, moving between its daytime supermarket location and the central spot where it would stay all evening. I’ve never seen so many people smiling, laughing and waving at such a simple thing, and the happiness is just so pure. It makes some people’s day, and that’s such an amazing thing.

2011 Coca-Cola Christmas Truck (lorry)By the time it’s parked up and the staff have done their work setting up the snow machine, free drink stall and lights, a major crowd has always gathered. In York, security people actually had to come and fetch the driver, Gary Coles, because the sea of people was so thick all around the lorry that he couldn’t open his door.

The wonder and glee that it inspires creates amazing stories. On the tour just a couple of weeks ago, a man used the photo podium, where people can have a free photo taken with the truck, to propose to his girlfriend in front of hundreds of people, to huge applause and Christmas spirit. It’s this sort of thing that reminds us what’s so wonderful about this time of year.

Christmas is all about being the best possible human being you can be, but it’s so hard in these times. We’re all getting squeezed left, right and centre but the big red truck with the famous image of Santa on the side (he’s 80 this year by the way) makes people forget about it all for a while.

Sam Barham, one of the event managers helping to run the tour up and down the country, is an absolute believer in the power of the truck. “The message is very much ‘happy Christmas’ from Coca-Cola, and thanks for supporting us for the last year. People can’t believe it’s all free. I can only see the tour getting better and better.”

At the wheel, Gary explains what it’s like driving such a cultural icon. “It’s fantastic, absolutely unbelievable. The attention it gets is absolutely incredible.

“People just go crazy. They run out, try and get pictures of the truck, even try to pull you over. I’ve been driving trucks for 21 years, including a lot of custom trucks, but never anything that gets this amount of attention.”

And yes, this fantastic machine means the same to Gary as it does to the rest of us. “Christmas is starting!” he says with a smile.

Matt Kimberley

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