I was five years old when Gene Autry recorded ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’ in 1949. I imagine I heard the song on the radio, but I don’t remember much from those early years. That’s where I learned the other reindeer’s names. Can’t you just hear the voice of Gene Autry singing these words? “You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen, Comet and Cupid and Donder and Blitzen. But do you recall, the most famous reindeer of all? Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer had a very shiny nose…” I still associate Gene Autry with that song, so it must be imbedded in my memory bank.
For people a bit younger than me, we only had a radio to listen to back then. This was before we had TVs, phonographs, computers, iPods, iPads, and all the other electronic gizmos we have now. When we heard the song on the radio, we had to use our imagination to picture what was going on, and what Rudolph looked like. I still love radio programs for that reason. Perhaps, that’s one of the reasons Garrison Keillor and his Lake Wobegon has been so successful. It wasn’t until later that I saw illustrations in a book about Rudolph.
In 1964, an animated TV special about Rudolph aired on NBC. It’s hard to believe this is the 50th anniversary of that show. Where did the time go? The animated story drastically altered the original Rudolph story written by Robert L. May and published by Montgomery Ward.
Our children watched Rudolph every Christmas season and now our grandson, Sean, is enjoying it. While we were with him over Thanksgiving, we watched it “several” times. He loves the program. Besides Santa, Rudolph, and the other reindeer, there are many new characters in the animated special that weren’t in the original book.
As most of you know, Rudolph is made fun of and rejected by the other reindeer because of his shiny, red nose. In the cartoon special, he runs away from home with another outcast, an elf named Hermey, who wants to be a dentist instead of a toymaker. Along the way, they meet a group of misfit toys that have defects and have been rejected too. There’s also Yukon Cornelius, a loud-mouth prospector and his sled dogs; Bumble, the scary Abominable Snow Monster; Clarice, Rudolph’s love interest; and the narrator, Sam the Snowman. The voice of Sam is Burl Ives, whose folk singing I loved.
Out of all those wonderful and colorful characters, which one do you think is Sean’s favorite? Not Santa, not Rudolph, but Bumble, the Abominable Snow Monster. At two-and-a-half years old, you’d think it would be a scary character to him, but Tim, his father, made him a fun character when he’d put his hands up and go “Awrrrr!” in a playful way. Now when Bumble looses all his teeth, Sean goes, “Oh no, Bumble.” It got to the point where we had to fast forward to the point where they meet Bumble. Just in case you’ve never seen the animated special of Rudolph, it has a happy ending. When Bumble gets pushed over the cliff, along with Yukon Cornelius, they don’t get killed because Bumbles bounce. Bumble becomes a good Snow Monster and because he’s so tall, gets a job in Santa’s toy factory putting the star on top of Christmas trees.
‘Rudolph’ also has a great message for, not just children, but for all of us, especially at this time of year. Rudolph was different and because of his appearance he was made fun of and called names by the other reindeer. They wouldn’t even let him play games with them. Rudolph felt alone and picked on. He became sad and depressed. Does that sound familiar? We hear a lot about bullying these days.
Hermey, the elf, doesn’t want to be a toymaker like all the other elves. He wants to become a dentist. He has different ambitions and doesn’t fit in. How often do we put someone down or discourage them when they want to be something other than what we think they should be?
When Rudolph and Hermey run away, they find where the misfit toys have been discarded. These toys have something wrong with how they look or how they work. They have imperfections and defects. In the end, even the misfit toys find children who are thrilled to have them. The great thing about the Rudolph TV program is that it shows us we don’t have to be perfect to be special. You can be different and still be accepted. How many of you have felt like you didn’t fit in? Maybe you have physical traits that make you different. Maybe you didn’t think you were smart enough or good looking enough. Maybe you were too tall, too short, too heavy, or too thin. The list goes on and on. I know I have plenty of imperfections, but we are what we are, and that’s all right.
Rudolph is much more than just a cartoon story during the Christmas season. It’s peace on earth and good will toward one another. It’s about accepting each other for who we are. Each and every one of you is special. From my side of the fence to yours, “Have a great Christmas season.”