“You know Dasher and Dancer,
Prancer and Vixen, Comet and Cupid,
and Donner and Blitzen.
But do you recall
the most famous reindeer of all?”
It’s precious few who haven’t heard of Rudolph. Every year new generations are introduced to the little red-nosed reindeer who wasn’t allowed to play in the reindeer games because of his nose. (Until, of course, one fateful foggy night that changed everything for him.)
So where did this reindeer that is now so deeply entrenched in Christmas folklore come from?
Rudolph was the creation of a man named Robert L. May. In 1939, May, who worked for Montgomery Ward as one of their copywriters, was asked to create a tale the stores could give to shoppers as a “promotional gimmick.”
Voila, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was born. But here’s some things maybe you didn’t know about how Rudolph came to be, well, Rudolph:
• May wanted his reindeer to have an alliterative name. Other choices he contemplated were Rollo and Reginald before deciding on Rudolph. (He felt Rollo was too upbeat of a name for a misfit character and Reginald was too British.)
• Rudolph almost didn’t have a red nose! Because red noses were generally associated with drinking and drunkards, May’s boss initially felt such a symbol wouldn’t be appropriate for a Christmas story.
• At first, May did not hold the copyright to Rudolph since he had created it during his employment with Montgomery Ward. Therefore, he received no royalties from the licensing; the company did. But in 1947, still trying to pay bills incurred from his wife’s terminal illness (which had killed her around the time he’d created Rudolph), May convinced Sewell Avery, Montgomery Ward’s corporate president, to give him the copyright.
• Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was first printed commercially in 1947, but what really made Rudy a hit was when Johnny Marks, May’s brother-in-law and a songwriter, created melody and lyrics.
• In 1949, Gene Autry recorded the song. It sold two million copies that year, and ended up being one of the best-selling Christmas songs ever. (Only “White Christmas” tops it. Also, it was Gene Autry’s most popular hit.)
• The TV special changed May’s original Rudolph story slightly by making Donner Rudolph’s father and Comet the coach of the reindeer team.
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer may have started out as an enticement for shoppers, but that little reindeer endeared himself to everyone who heard his tale. How could we not help but fall in love with him? He’s not only cinched himself a place in Christmas history, exactly like the song says, but also in our hearts forevermore.
You might have heard the one where the dogs bark out “Jingle Bells,” but this video may top that. Click here to see some adorable puppies give their rendition of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”