It has been quite a while since I have written about anything regarding Santa Claus for our community. That I am going to try to remedy with this article that I hope will be found to be light hearted, yet thought provoking. This is to be the first of many of these types of items that I am going to tentatively title “Mistletoe Musings.” In many groups such as ours (whether historical, theatrical, or literary) there are those who seek higher learning and understanding of what the subject is about. I feel it should be no different in the study of Santa Claus. To get the clear picture of whom he is and what he represents only benefits the portrayals of each of us. He is more than a doddering old man or town drunk as depicted in popular interpretation. Santa is something more. I hope you will enjoy pondering these ideas, and by doing so may we grow closer as a community as we endeavor to portray our beloved Santa.
The Rudolph Question
Every Santa Season we are asked about that one particular reindeer who’s known as the “most famous reindeer of all.” Everyone knows the other eight. But they are dismissed when it comes to that one little fellow with the glowing red nose – Rudolph. Thanks to a popular song by Johnny Marks, an RKO cartoon, and several Rankin Bass Christmas specials he has become as inseparable to Santa as the Jolly Old Elf’s big black boots. Rudolph is a part of the Christmas canon now, and there seems that there is no child worldwide that doesn’t know his name and story.
Rudolph was born in the mind of Robert L. May way back in 1939. May’s poem was used as an advertising blitz by Montgomery Wards – or “Monkey Wards” as they were popularly called. And the original story is very different than that of the little reindeer and his elven friend and dentist who travels to the Island of Misfit Toys. Copies are still readily available, and I suggest if you haven’t read it that you do. Rudolph and his story have been everywhere, even to the Hit Parade by both Gene Autry and Burl Ives respectfully. His has become one of the most recorded Christmas songs in history. Since Christmas 1939, Rudolph has been a part of every child’s visions of the Christmas Eve flight. Even at the age of 74, Rudolph still leads Santa’s team across the sky and into the hearts of children of all ages.
I have often pondered the role of Santa’s partner in relation to other companions he has in various incarnations across the globe. He is definitely less threatening than Krampus – the devil like figure of many Alpine countries who accompanies St. Nicholas and takes care of the naughty children. He is definitely cleaner than Schmutzli – the helper of Samischlaus in eastern Europe who not only carries the sack of goodies but also makes sure the chimneys are clean and children are behaved. He is much less controversial than Zwarte Piet or “Pete” – Sinterklaas’ helper in the Netherlands who assists him attired in black face paint and colorful clothes and has become a sign of racial prejudice. No, Rudolph’s presence is both practical and benevolent. Not only does he teach that differences are to be celebrated, but that everyone’s talents, no matter what they are, are relevant. Rudolph proves that being different is being great – a lesson that children of all ages can use.
While in the chair this past Christmas I was asked all about Rudolph by one little fellow who was eager to learn. I, of course, explained that Rudolph is doing very well and he does remain very active on foggy and inclement Christmas Eves. The youngster was very happy to hear that. Jokingly, I also said that he has become quite a snob thanks to the song and movies about him. I furthered the story by explaining that the elves can’t even get his autograph these days. The little fellow laughed. But I reassured them that Santa still loves him and all the other reindeer love him too. When asked how old the reindeer was I responded that this would be his 74th Christmas flight. The little fellow’s eyes grew large and he ran to tell his parents in his excitement. I am sure Rudolph would approve of this telling of his story.
Rudolph’s story and character hold something for everyone and are equally loved. So, remember to tell the little ones you meet about that dear of a deer and what he means to old Santa. His story is one that is inspiring and should be told. And when you are asked about your favorite cookie, be sure to remind the little ones to think of the reindeer. Rudolph loves an extra carrot – it helps his battery charge so his nose will glow even brighter through the Christmases to come!