The Chicago-based Montgomery Ward Department Stores had been purchasing and distributing children’s coloring books as Christmas gifts for their customers for several years. In 1939, Montgomery Ward asked one of their own employees to create a book for them, thus saving money. So, 34-year old copywriter Robert L. May wrote the story of Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer and 2.4 million copies were handed out that year. Despite the wartime paper shortage, over 6 million copies had been distributed by 1946.
To create the story of the misfit reindeer, May drew, in part, from the story of “The Ugly Duckling” and, also, from his own experiences as an often taunted, small, frail youth. He tested his story, written in a series of rhyming couplets, on his 4-year old daughter Barbara. She loved it! Though Rollo and Reginald were considered as names for the reindeer, May settled on Rudolph.
Sadly, Robert May’s wife died around the time he was creating Rudolph, leaving May deeply in debt due to medical bills. However, he was able to persuade Sewell Avery, Montgomery Ward’s corporate president, to turn the copyright over to him in January 1947, thus ensuring May’s financial security.
May’s story “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” was printed commercially in 1947 and in 1948 a nine-minute cartoon of the story was shown in theaters. When May’s brother-in-law, songwriter Johnny Marks, wrote the lyrics and melody for the song “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”, the Rudolph phenomenon was born. Turned down by many musical artists afraid to contend with the legend of Santa Claus, the song was recorded by Gene Autry in 1949 at the urging of Autry’s wife. The song sold two million copies that year, going on to become one of the best-selling songs of all time, second only to Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas”. The 1964 television special about Rudolph, narrated by Burl Ives, remains a holiday favorite to this day and Rudolph himself has become a much-loved Christmas icon.
So how do we transform this to make it a reminder of the birth of Jesus Christ?
When you think of ‘Rudolph’, remember that Rudolph, although he was mistreated by his fellow reindeer, was drafted by Santa because they could not see clearly the path that they needed to go. Rudolph safely guided the sleigh. Think about these verses: Psalm 31:3 For You are my rock and my fortress; therefore, for Your name’s sake, lead me and guide me. Psalm 32:8 I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will guide you with My eye. Psalm 48:14 For this is God, our God forever and ever; He will be our guide even to death. Jesus, although mistreated by a world of people who can not find their way, has been sent by the Father to safely guide each of us through life.