24 December! We now know that Christmas is associated with various legends and mythical and unusual characters since time immemorial. Among these, we have not yet speak about Rudolph, popularly known as “Santa’s ninth reindeer”. Rudolph is depicted as a reindeer with a glowing red nose, and is one of Santa Claus’s prized reindeers.
Known for pulling Santa’s sleigh on Christmas, Rudolph’s nose is believed to light the path while Santa goes from house to house, placing gifts under the Christmas tree.
There have been various television shows, movie, comics and cartoons based on this very popular Christmas Character and, apart from being one of the reindeers of the Christmas night legend, there have been countless variations on the origins of this character. Contrary to belief, Rudolph is a twentieth century creation.
A legend had that Rudolph was created by a man to console his daughter on the news of her mother dying from a terminal disease. Instead, despite this not verified version, It is said that Rudolph was created purely for commercial purpose by a Montgomery Ward Copywriter who created the character of Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer and he tested the character on his own daughter to ensure that the reindeer would like to children.
So, the story of Rudolph’s character began to take form when the Chicago-based Montgomery Ward company asked one of its employees, Robert L. May to come with a Christmas story as a promotional gimmick. Robert was known for his limericks and stories, and began developing the story using the reindeer as the protagonist of his story. Robert L. May is credited also for having come up with the name, Rudolph, which is said to be a mix of Rollo and Reginald.
However, there were quite a few controversies regarding Rudolph’s depiction with a red nose: many people linked the Rudolph’s red nose and compared the image to drunkards, as people who drank a lot, often had red noses!
So, Rudolph first appeared in a 1939 booklet written by Robert L. May and published by Montgomery Ward, the department store.
Despite this controversies, more than 2 million booklets of Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer were circulated around the world during the 1940’s. After World War II, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer turned into a comic and was printed commercially. There was a also song called ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer developed by Johnny Marks that became one of the best-selling Christmas songs of all time.
The story goes Rudolph was one of Santa’s prized reindeers. He wasn’t any ordinary reindeer, and although he was made fun of for his red-nose, he was not regarded as an embarrassment by his family. According go the legend, Rudolph was brought up in a well-to-do family and was also a responsible reindeer, who was concerned about his self-esteem. There is an interesting story behind how Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was picked by Santa Claus. When Santa was delivering Christmas presents around town, he found a red light emanating from one of the houses. He bumped into Rudolph by accident, and concluded that without Rudolph’s guiding light from his nose, Santa Claus might have been victim to an accident while travelling on his sleigh.
After completing his rounds, Santa chose Rudolph to be a part of his team, and picked him to lead the way back to the North Pole. It is believed that Santa said “By you, last night’s journey was bossed. Without you, I’m certain we’d all have been lost”. And ever since, Rudolph has been considered as one of the most popular Christmas legends.
But why the reindeers? In traditional Christmas legend, Santa Claus’s reindeer pull a sleigh through the night sky to help Santa Claus deliver gifts to children on Christmas Eve. The commonly cited names of the eight reindeer are Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen, and they are based on those used in the 1823 poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas” also known as “The Night Before Christmas” by Clement Clarke Moore, which reads:
— “When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
but a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny rein-deer,
with a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and call’d them by name:
“Now, Dasher! Now, Dancer! Now, Prancer, and Vixen!
“On, Comet! On, Cupid! On, Dunder and Blixem!
“To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
“Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”
As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew –”
Then popularity of the Christmas song “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” has bring the number of Santa Claus’s reindeer up to nine.
The names Dunder and Blixem derive from Dutch words for thunder and lightning, respectively, and the first reference to Santa’s sleigh being pulled by a reindeer appears in Old Santeclaus with Much Delight, an illustrated children’s poem published in New York in 1821. The poem, with eight colored lithographic illustrations, was published by William B. Gilley as a small paperback book entitled The Children’s Friend: A New-Year’s Present, to the Little Ones from Five to Twelve.
Illustration to verse 1 of Old Santeclaus with Much Delight, 1821
“A Visit From St. Nicholas”, handwritten manuscript by Clement C. Moore: