The legend of a kind old gentleman delivering holiday gifts to children is centuries old. But reindeer were not part of Santa’s story until the 1823 publication of the poem “A Visit From St. Nicholas.”Over 100 years later, a Christmas story by Robert L. May made Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer a much-loved part of the season.
In the 1964 television special based on May’s tale, Rudolph is the son of Donner and his wife. As the lead reindeer, Donner is embarrassed when his son is born with a bright red nose and concerned the young buck will not be able to pull Santa’s sleigh. Rudolph is shunned by the other reindeer after his disguise flies off and his shiny nose exposed during flying practices (known as reindeer games). He runs away from home, eventually joined by a misfit elf named Hermey. After a series of adventures, the outcast saves his family and puts his unique “handicap” to work, guiding Santa’s sleigh through thick fog and saving Christmas.
Depression-weary families embraced May’s book and its uplifting ending. The subsequent television special expanded on May’s fable, teaching children to overcome adversity and earn respect by hard work. By weaving a tale combining the American Dream and the spirit of Christmas, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer has become a holiday classic.