Friday 24 December 2021

The Red-Nosed Reindeer

Since Christmas is fast approaching, every shop and radio station is playing Christmas songs all the time, and one which has always stood out for me is Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

I'd always thought Rudolph had started life as a song, but Wikipedia says the story was originally written in verse for the Montgomery Ward chain of department stores in the US in 1939, and only became a song in 1949, popularised by Gene Autry.
Rudolph leading the other eight

Before Rudolph came along, the names of Santa's other reindeer had come from the familiar poem A Visit From St. Nicholas by Clement C. Moore, first published in 1823. It's the one that begins 'Twas the night before Christmas. The poem gives the names as Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donder and Blitzen. (Not Donner, although he did name the last two reindeer after thunder and lightning).

In any case, Donder has now become Donner, and the list of reindeer that every scholarly child (such as I was) commits to memory is the eight names above, plus Rudolph, who is of course the youngest.

From the famous song, here's the bit which troubled me then, and still does today, enough to want to write about it here. Everybody knows that Rudolph isn't like the other reindeer. His shiny red nose marks him out as different:
All of the other reindeer used to laugh and call him names.
They wouldn't let poor Rudolph join in any reindeer games

When I was a child, I didn't have a shiny red nose, but there was definitely something palpably different about me. I didn't fit in with the boys, no matter how I tried, and therefore I was always an outsider, yearning to be accepted. I remember being lonely and perplexed, wishing I could like football, wishing I could like rough-and-tumble play, and wondering what it was that was so intangible, and yet at the same time so inescapable. Not only were the boys unwilling to play with an atypical boy, so were the girls.

For Rudolph, the story ends happily. One foggy Christmas Eve, Santa realises that Rudolph's shiny red nose is just the thing to light the way for the sleigh. Hurrah.

All of the reindeer loved him, and they shouted out with glee
"Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer, you'll go down in history!"

As a child, I thought the other reindeer were a bunch of two-faced bastards. Santa decides Rudolph is cool, so suddenly they all change their tune? Partly I wanted Rudolph to tell the other reindeer to bugger off: partly I was pleased for Rudolph that he found the acceptance he had craved.

Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!
You may say (and you could be right) that I'm completely overthinking all of this. It's just a children's Christmas story, after all, and therefore it requires a happy ending with a perfect resolution.

But there is, I think a deeper interpretation, which is that those people who seem to not fit in--the one that other people laugh at, and call names--not only have something valuable to contribute, but can actually lead, and become popular, and become famous. Can, in fact, "go down in history".

So if I have one Christmas wish for us all, it is this. I wish that we get recognised as being special, and wonderful, and that we are loved, not just by Santa but by everyone.

Wherever you are, I wish you a glorious, sparkly, magical Christmas.


  1. Spooky. Just the other day I was thinking about being the outsider and, here's a post about that very thing.

    Any chance of next month's lottery numbers or where did I leave my keys? 😉

    Jokes aside: wishing you both a merry Christmas and that you get that wish.

    1. Thank you so much Lynn! (They're under the fruit bowl by the back door!)

      Happy Christmas to you and yours!

  2. Hans Christian Anderson's The Ugly Duckling (which I listened to on a Danny Kaye lp when I was 5 or 6) was in much the same vein.
    A sparkly magical Christmas to you too. xxx

    1. Yes it is! I wonder if that's where the plot came from originally?

      In any case, for trans people, the Ugly Duckling is an even more effective metaphor for what we are!

  3. Unfortunately far too many of us have faced similar problems when growing up. I hated football and all sports in truth, I was hopeless at them, as a youngster that had not worked out my way in life it could be very difficult in London's East End in the 60's. I also have dyslexia which although known about at the time was not generally recognised this only added to my problems. When I researched dyslexia much later in life I discovered that it is quite common for people affected by the condition to also have very bad hand eye coordination, no surprise then that I was useless at any sort of ball games from foot ball to snooker! Again another reason for not fitting in. I don't blame the kids in my class / school, it's society that educated them to act they way they did. The system let me down, society deemed I didn't fit the 'norm' and so was treated less favourably than I should have been. Do I regret the life I had, particularly the school years, no not one bit, it was just the way life was. When you live a certain way it's just life, viewed from outside it would seem to be difficult or hard, but you just had to get on with it. The sad thing about poor Rudolph is that he was chastised for not fitting in until Santa deemed he was 'cool' then all of a sudden he was supported and liked. Why can't people be brave enough to support someone different when they recognise they special in someway, instead of following to crowd.........

    1. I still have absolutely no interest in sports. This still provokes perplexity among my colleagues, who will commonly get up in the middle of the night to watch televised fixtures of NZ teams playing in the Northern Hemisphere.

      I'm happy to report that things are changing. One of my kids is rainbow, and there is a very comfortable level of acceptance among their peers, and in the school, for their somewhat unorthodox dress sense. So queer kids definitely don't face the same obstacles as we did.