Christmas Insights – Origin and Inspirational Meaning and Lesson from Rudolph The Red-Nose Reindeer!

A story book for Christmas was created in 1939 during the time of the great depression. The story was created for the Chicargo based Montgomery Wards Department Stores featuring a new character called Rudolph. One of the highlights for the Christmas season was for parents to take their children for a visit to large department stores such as Montgomery Wards to visit Santa, sit on his knee and receive a gift. For many years the Montgomery Wards Santa gave away from his Christmas sack a specially printed Christmas color-in book. The store wanted to save money and do something different so it gave one of its stores copywriters, 34 year old Rudolph L May the job of coming up with a story. May was said to be taunted as a child because he was shy and small in statue. It is believed that the idea of being ostracized came from his own personal experiences. May created Rudolph with similar problems who in the end rises above his problems and is transformed.

Originally May wrote the story as a rhyming verse which his young 4 years old daughter Barbara loved. Originally store owners thought a red nose may be inappropriate as generally a red nose was associated with drinking. However after illustrations surfaced this suggestion was dismissed and the story was approved. The story book of Rudolph soon filled Santa’s sack as a give-away; a new gimmick for promotions which took on immediate success in the Montgomery Wards stores.

Upon release in 1939 2.4 million copies of the story was distributed. Due to war time paper shortages, minimal copies were printed over the coming years. However by 1946 it was estimated that a total of 6 million copies had been given away. The story later went on to be translated into 25 languages.

Rudolph was created during a difficult time for May as his wife had a terminal illness (cancer) and died. Writing Rudolph was a distraction that brought him and his young daughter Barbara together in a magical way. May changed the story as he wrote it depending on Barbara’s reaction. May received no royalties for Rudolph because copyright was held by Montgomery Wards for whom he was an employee only. May was snowed under with medical and other bills. He went to Montgomery Wards to seek release of the rights to Rudolph. It was in 1947 that his request succeeded. May was able to transform is financial circumstances as he had the story printed commercially in the same year. The following year a nine minute cartoon was shown in theatres. This soon followed by May’s brother in law Johnny Marks, a songwriter, developing a song to go with the story. His song ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’ was recorded and made famous by Gene Autry in 1949. It sold two million copies in the first year. It become a Christmas classic and one of the best selling songs of all time. In 1964 Burl Ives narrated a TV special about Rudolph which is still popular today. May secured a good life from Rudolph. He quit his copywriting job in 1951 to concentrate on Rudolph yet returned a number of years later and stayed until his retirement in 1971. He died in 1976.

Rudolph came along more than 100 years after the flying reindeer made their debut. Although loved and cherished by his family, Rudolph was a misfit, teased and later ostracized by the reindeer community because of his unusual glowing red nose. The story unfolds with Santa discovering Rudolph by accident when he noticed a glow emanating from Rudolph’s room while delivering presents to his home one Christmas eve. As the thickening fog was already the cause of several accidents and delays Santa was worried he may not be able to complete his rounds. Rudolph was recruited as the light of the way leading Santa’s reindeer team to successfully fulfill all deliveries. The message of Rudolph proved popular, that is, a perceived liability is often an asset waiting to be discovered!


Visit to listen to ‘Conversations with Mrs Claus’ podcast show with Mrs Claus (aka Christmas author Bernadette Dimitrov) – a weekly stream of inspiration, insight and connection to fascinating guests world-wide. Afun show with something for young and old with prizes to be won! Also come visit and join their free Christmas newsletter & receive free gifts!

Note: Mrs Claus interview Rudolph (played by comedian Mary Andrews who shares how he overcame his challenges when he first arrived at the North Pole visit to hear this show!


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