Tuesday, December 15, 2015

A Deer in the Red Light

by Connie Cortright

Behind every Christmas tradition and song, a story is waiting to be told, and, of course, this is the place to find stories that began in the 20s and 30s. What about the tale behind "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer"?

This story began in 1939 when the department store Montgomery Wards gave one of their employees the task of making a coloring book to hand out to children during Christmas shopping. In January, 1939 the job fell into the lap of Robert L. May, a 33-year-old copy writer. He was instructed to write an animal story about Christmas and have it illustrated in time for next December.

He chose the reindeer since his 4-year-old daughter loved these animals at the zoo. The character of the reindeer mirrored May's own life in that he was a misfit during his childhood. Maybe Mr. May dreamed of being the hero one day because his character followed this plot line in the story. One night as May overlooked a foggy Lake Michigan, the idea popped into his head to have Rudolph rescue Santa Claus with his bright nose. Rudolph saved the day during a crisis in the fog.

May's struggle to get his story written was complicated by the fact that his wife was dying of cancer during the early months of 1939. After her death in July, May had to overcome his grief to finish writing the narrative poem that we now know as "Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer". He had to succeed with his assignment to help pay for the large medical bills that accumulated during his wife's illness.

By the Christmas season, the booklet was illustrated and printed in time for distribution to children. Wards advertised this newly written children's story well before Christmas to draw shoppers into their 620 stores across the country. During those few weeks, 2.4 million copies of the illustrated book were given away to children. Rudolph has been a well-loved Christmas tradition ever since.

In 1947, the directors of Ward's handed the copyright over to Robert May. After that time, he commercialized the story and eventually spun out the popular song we still know today along with the cartoon version of the story and other merchandise.

How many of you grew up with the story or song of Rudolph being one of your favorite Christmas traditions?

Information taken from History.com and Wikipedia.org


  1. I didn't like watching Rudolph. The scary scene was, well, scary.

  2. Hmmm. I don't even remember a scary scene. :)