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How Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer Came Into Being
RUDOLPH AND I WERE SOMETHING ALIKE
By Robert L. May, Evanston, Ill.
An icy January blast tore at my coast as I hurried on my way to work. I noticed that the Christmas street decorations had been taken down, and in a way I was relieved. My wife was suffering from a long illness and I didn’t feel very festive.
I was glad to get inside the foyer of the Montgomery Ward building. In the elevator I leaned back and listened to the younger men eagerly discuss their work.
“And how are you starting the new year?” I glumly asked myself. Here I was, heavily in debt at age 35, still grinding out catalogue copy. Instead of writing the great American novel, as I’d once hoped, I was describing men’s white shirt. It seemed I’d always been a loser.
In the copy department a secretary called. “Bob, the boss wants to see you.”
What now? I wondered.
DECIDED TO TRY
Our department head stood at the window in his office. “Bob,” he barked, “I’ve got an idea. For years our stores have been buying those little Christmas giveaway coloring books from local peddlers. I think we can save a lot of money if we create one ourselves. Could you come up with a better booklet we could use?”
I started to answer but he kept right on talking. “I think it should be an animal story, with a main character like Ferdinand the Bill.”
Finally I said I’d try.
That night, I wondered about what kind of animal it should be. Christmas. Santa. Reindeer? Of course; it must be a reindeer – Barbara, my four-year-old daughter, loved the deer down at the zoo.
BRIGHT RED NOSE
But what could a little reindeer teach children?
Suppose he were an underdog – a loser, yet triumphant in the end. But what kind of underdog. Certainly a reindeer’s dream would be to pull Santa’s sleigh.
Outside, the fog swirled in from Lake Michigan, dimming the street lights. Light. Something to help Santa find his way on a night like this.
Suddenly I had it! A nose! A bright red nose that would shine through fog like a floodlight.
HE HAD FAITH
The next morning I enthusiastically presented my idea to the boss. “For gosh sakes, Bob, can’t you do better than that?”
I retreated to my desk and sat staring at the wall. I had faith in the reindeer I had by now named Rudolph. But how could I convince the boss? I prayed for inspiration.
An idea struck me. A bold, audacious idea. I walked over to the art department, where my friend Denver Gillen worked. “Denver, could you draw a deer with a big red nose and make him look appealing?”
He looked at me quizzically and I explained my idea. The following Saturday morning, Barbara, Denver and I met at the deer corral at Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo. As he sketched, I held Barbara up so she could better see those gentle creatures.
WE HAD SOMETHING
By afternoon we felt we had something.
On Monday morning we brought the sketches into the boss’s office. He studied them for a long time. “Bob,” he said softly, “forget what I said and put the story into finished form.”
I started writing:
“Twas the day before Christmas and all through the hills – The reindeer were playing . . . enjoying the spills . . .”
Spring slipped into summer. My wife’s parents came to stay with us to help. Suddenly her condition grew worse. Then in July she was gone.
At the office the boss put his hand on my shoulder. “Bob,” he said, his voice unusually gentle. “I can understand your not wanting to go on with the kids’ book. Give me what you’ve got and I’ll let someone else finish it.”
But I needed Rudolph now more than ever. Gratefully I buried myself in the writing. Finally, in late August, it was done. I called Barbara and her grandparents into the living room and read it to them.
In their eyes I could see that the story accomplished what I had hoped.
Today children all over the world read and hear about the little deer who started out in life as a loser, just as I did. But they learn that when he gave himself for others, his handicap became the very means through which he received happiness.
My reward is knowing that every year, when Christmas rolls around, Rudolph still brings that message to millions, both young and old.
Montgomery Ward had been buying and giving away coloring books for Christmas every year and it was decided that creating their own book would save money. May considered naming the reindeer "Rollo" and "Reginald" before deciding upon using the name "Rudolph". In its first year of publication, 2.5 million copies of Rudolph's story were distributed by Montgomery Ward.
May's brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, adapted the story of Rudolph into a song. Gene Autry's recording of the song hit No. 1 on the Billboard pop singles chart the week of Christmas 1949. Autry's recording sold 2.5 million copies the first year, eventually selling a total of 25 million, and it remained the second best-selling record of all time until the 1980s
The Children's Book
In 1958, Golden Books published an illustrated storybook, adapted by Barbara Shook Hazen and illustrated by Richard Scarry. The book is similar in story to the Max Fleischer cartoon short. It is no longer in print. However, a revised Golden Books version of the storybook has since been issued.
The TV Special
In 1964, the tale was adapted into a stop-motion Christmas special by Rankin/Bass. Filmed entirely in Japan with all sound recordings done in Toronto, Canada, the show premiered on NBC, drastically altering the original telling of the story. This re-telling chronicles Rudolph's social rejection among his peers and his decision to run away from home. Rudolph is accompanied by a similarly-outcast elf named Hermey, whose dreams of becoming a dentist are shunned by the other elves, along with a loud, boisterous, eager prospector named Yukon Cornelius who was in search of wealth. Additional original characters include Rudolph's love interest, Clarice; the antagonistic Abominable Snowman; and, as narrator, the anthropomorphic Sam the Snowman, voiced by Burl Ives.
After the story's initial broadcast, its closing credits were revised. Images of wrapped presents being dropped from Santa's sleigh were replaced by "Misfit" Toys being dropped to the homes of children below, where they were found by children who loved them. The changes were prompted by viewer feedback pleading for a happy ending for each toy. The special now airs annually on CBS, rather than NBC, and is hailed as a classic by many. The special's original assortment of trademarked characters have acquired iconic status, and its alterations of the true storyline are frequently parodied in other works. The sequel Rudolph's Shiny New Year continued the reindeer's journeys.
The answers to the following can be found within the various posts on this blog...
Holiday Names and Greetings
1. “X-mas” is an irreverent, non-Christian name for the holiday.
2. “Noel” comes from Old French, meaning “new birth”.
3. “Yule” comes from an ancient Viking celebration of the turning of the sun.
4. “Feliz Navidad” directly translated into English means “Happy Birth”.
5. “Mele Kalikimaka” is Hawaiian for “enjoy the holiday feast”.
The Nativity of Jesus
6. Modern calendar years are based on the verified year of the birth of Christ.
7. The number of visitors, known as Magi, Wise Men or Kings, was three.
8. The Wise Men, or Kings, came to see the newborn baby lying in the manger.
9. Early Christians believed Christ was born on December 25th.
10. Shepherds watched their flocks on the cold winter’s night of Christ’s birth.
The Twelve Days of Christmas
11. The Twelve Days of Christmas begin on December 13th.
12. The gifts given on each day in the song represent items at a Christmas party.
13. The “Two Turtle Doves” represented the Old and New Testaments.
14. The last two gifts were 11 lords a leaping and 12 drummers drumming.
15. St. Nicholas, who preceded Santa Claus, was born in Germany in 1622.
16. Santa’s flying sleigh and reindeer originated from stories in the 1800’s.
17. Although he’s known by many names in many places, Santa is always a man.
18. Kris Kringle was the name of an early Dutch Santa Claus figure.
19. Santa Claus is largely unknown in places like Japan and China.
20. Rudolph’s story was a promotional creation of Montgomery Ward stores.
21. Blixen is the name of Santa’s eighth reindeer.
22. Donner, the seventh reindeer, is sometimes incorrectly called Donder.
23. The reindeer were first named in “Twas the Night Before Christmas”.
24. Instead of reindeer, in Sweden, a goat pulls Santa’s (Tomten’s) sled.
25. The custom of decorating trees for Christmas originated in Germany.
26. Before the 1500’s, Christmas trees were considered a pagan custom.
27. Martin Luther is credited with first putting candles, or lights, on the tree.
28. There is no mention of a Christmas tree in Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol.”
29. Hanging the tree upside down from the ceiling used to be popular.
30. The first Christmas card was created and sent in London in 1840.
31. The most popular selling Christmas Carol of all time is “Silent Night”.
32. Mistletoe used to be hung for enemies to meet under and call a truce.
33. Poinsettias were first brought to the U.S. from Mexico by Mr. Poinsett.
34. Christmas mince pie contained rabbit, pheasant and partridge meat.
35. “Nog” in eggnog refers to a heavy noggin (head) from drinking too much.
36. The tradition of filling stockings originated in the country of Turkey.
37. Sleigh rides with jingle bells is a favorite Christmas activity in Australia.
38. Celebrating Christmas was once outlawed in Merry Olde England.
39. Candy canes were created to keep children quiet during church services.
40. Swedish Christmas celebrates St. Lucia, who helped needy people in Italy.
1. False. “X” comes from the Greek letter that start’s Christ’s name and represents Christ. 2. True. Oui, oui. Noel is tres French, an old word which is related to the nouvelle, meaning “new”. 3. True. The word “yule” is old Norse for wheel, meaning the wheel in the sky that turns to give more light. 4. True. “Feliz” means “happy”. “Navidad” translates to nativity, which also means birth. 5. False. It means nothing in Hawaiian. It is an attempt to spell English “Merry Christmas” using Hawaiian letters. 6. False. There is no historical verification to the year of Christ’s birth. Some scholars believe it was in 2 to 4 B.C. 7. False. Three gifts are mentioned, but no number of the visitors is given. Some believe there were 12 or more. 8. False. They arrived well after Christ was born, and most likely saw him inside a home in a regular bed. 9. False. No exact date was known. When Romans became Christian, the Dec. 25th date replaced a pagan holiday. 10. False. Shepherds were not in the fields with their flocks during winter. This most likely occurred in the spring. 11. False. They start on Christmas Day, Dec. 25th, and last until Jan. 6th, the Eastern Orthodox Christmas Day. 12. True. In Old England, a party was held on “12th Night”. All the gifts were represented through food or fun. 13. True. The gifts and numbers were created to represent / disguise gospel principles for early persecuted believers. 14. False. There are 10 lords a leaping, not 11. Correct answer: 11 pipers piping, 12 drummers drumming. 15. False. St. Nicholas was born in Asia Minor, now known as Turkey, sometime during the 3rd Century. 16. False. The idea originated from early legends of Viking gods flying through the skies on animal-pulled sleighs. 17. False. In Italy, the gift giver is an old woman known as La Befana. In parts of Russia, she is known as Babushka. 18. False. Kris Kringle is an Americanization of the German gift giver “Christ-kindl”, or “Christ Child”. 19. False. Santa Claus has become a popular holiday figure in both Japan and China, not necessarily for Christmas. 20. True. It was a 1939 promotional gimmick given to those who did Christmas shopping at Montgomery Ward. 21. False. The name of the eighth reindeer is spelled Blitzen, not Blixen. 22. False. The original text of “Twas the Night Before Christmas” spells the seventh reindeer’s name as Donder. 23. True. “Twas the Night Before Christmas” by Clement C. Moore was the first text that named the eight reindeer. 24. True. Although many reindeer are in Northern Sweden, Tomten rides a sled through the forest pulled by a goat. 25. False. The Germans adapted modern tree traditions from customs of the ancient Romans and Celtic druids. 26. False. 7th Century Catholic monk St. Boniface used the indoor evergreen’s triangle shape to teach of the Godhead. 27. True. Legend claims Martin Luther first put candles on his tree, to represent the light of Christ for his children. 28. True. Christmas trees did not become popular in England until after Dickens wrote “A Christmas Carol”. 29. True. Many trees were originally hung upside down in Old Europe and in early Pennsylvania settlements. 30. True. John C. Horsley created his own card in 1840. The idea caught on, and his card was re-printed in 1843. 31. False. Although “Silent Night” is popular in many countries, Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” is the top seller. 32. True. Used for many things, mistletoe brought people together, including those who needed to kiss and make-up. 33. True. Joel Roberts Poinsett, Ambassador to Mexico, introduced the “Holy Night Flowers” to the U.S. in 1825. 34. True. Originally, mince pie was a meat pie. Fruits and spices were later added, and then the meat was dropped. 35. False. “Nog” is another term for “grog”, which is a rum-based drink. Eggnog is sometimes served with rum. 36. True. St. Nicholas, who lived in Turkey, is claimed to have assisted the needy by leaving gold coins in stockings. 37. False. Christmas in Australia occurs during summertime. A beach barbecue is a popular Christmas Day event. 38. True. From 1645 to 1660, because of Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans, celebrating Christmas was illegal. 39. True. A Cologne Cathedral Choirmaster gave shepherds crook-shaped candy to kids during long nativity services. 40. True. Though celebrated in Sweden, Lucia’s legend began with her Christian services and martyrdom in Italy.
Correct Answers Rating: 40 - Cheater, you peeked! Not even Santa knew all of these. 35 to 39 - Next in line to be Santa. How’s your “ho, ho, ho”? 30 to 34 - A true Christmas elf. Santa’s looking to promote you. 25 to 29 - On Santa’s Nice List, but you could do better. 20 to 24 - Rockin’ around the Christmas tree, but you’re missing some good stuff. 15 to 19 - You like Christmas, but your favorite holiday is Halloween, right? 10 to 14 - Christmas is coming, and you haven’t got a ha’penny. God bless you. Less than 10 - Bah humbug. You need to pay more attention if you want more than coal in your stocking. Better watch out or you’ll get run over by a reindeer.