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Everything you need to know about Rudolph the Reindeer

Ask kids who their favourite reindeer is, and the answer is always Rudolph. Yet he was not even in the reindeer list given in Clement Clarke Moore’s 1823 classic poem, ‘The Night Before Christmas.’ Moore stated that Santa’s reindeer were Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen.

Rudolph is a relative newcomer, having only entered Santa Claus lore in 1939. He was dreamed up as a retail marketing idea. Chicago based retailers, Montgomery Ward, had a tradition of giving away colouring books every Christmas. In 1939, they decided that it would be nice to create their own story.

Robert L May had the task of writing a suitable story. As his daughter loved reindeer, he thought it would be nice to focus on a reindeer. He played with names – Reginald and Rollo were originally used before settling for Rudolph. Seeking inspiration, he sat looking out of the window of his Chicago office. All he could see was thick fog, preventing him seeing Lake Michigan. “Suddenly I had it,” he later said. “A nose! A bright red nose that would shine through fog like a spotlight.”

Just like Clement Clarke Moore’s story, May’s new Rudolph story was written as a poem. His friend and colleague, Denver Gillen, created a bouncy, lively little reindeer with a big red shiny nose to illustrate it.

The book was an instant hit. Kids adored Rudolph. In the first year of publication, 2.4 million copies were distributed. His story quickly spread worldwide. Christmas 1949 saw the launch of the well known song – Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer sung by Gene Autry. 2.5m copies were sold in one year, and it was America’s No 1 Christmas song. Until the 1980’s it was the second best selling record worldwide!

Scientists have explored the Rudolph Phenomenon seeking to explain why a red nose might have this luminous effect. In 2015, American Professor Nathaniel Dominy wrote a paper pointing out that reindeer eyes can see shorter light wavelengths than humans. This enables them to see ultraviolet light. In fog, ultraviolet light becomes scattered, rendering reindeer blind. Rudolph’s Red Nose makes a difference because it enables him to see using a longer light wavelength using red light and this penetrates the fog more clearly.

There have been numerous off shoots of the story ever since Rudolph first appeared on the scene. Countless stories have been created such as Rudolph’s Shiny New Year, Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July. Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer: The Movie has become a key part of Christmas lore. The US Post Office even issued a series of postage stamps featuring Rudolph in 2014.

That same year, kids around the UK were thrilled to see Rudolph appearing alongside Doctor Who. Complete with his glowing red nose, Rudolph was accompanied by Donner and Blitzen in the 2014 Dr Who Christmas Special: Last Christmas. Santa is shown parking Rudolph just like a car, and then turning off his red, red nose!

Loved, treasured and instantly identifiable, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer is here to stay. Who knows where Rudolph’s activities will lead in years to come? What is certain, is that every Santa Claus has to know the story of Rudolph and be ready to talk about him with every child he meets.

Learning the Rudolph Code has become an essential Santa lesson!