This Christmas Icon Just Turned 80

Published 12-20-2019

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During the holiday season, countless films and songs tell us to be jolly and show gratitude. But there's one popular story that teaches the importance of being kind and brave, no matter the circumstances. If you've heard of Santa, chances are you've heard of his trusty reindeer, Rudolph and how his bright, red nose saved Christmas. But do you know his origin story?

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The most famous reindeer of all, Rudolph, originated more than a century after his eight counterparts were introduced in Washington Irving's 1809 novel, "Knickerbocker's History of New York." It wasn't until 1939 that Rudolph found his home in Christmas history. And it's all thanks to a department store copywriter.

In 1939, 130 years after Irving's book was released, Robert L. May, a copywriter at the Montgomery Ward Department Store, wrote a story-poem to bring traffic to his store during the holidays. Using a rhyme pattern similar to "A Visit From St. Nicholas," a famous poem written in 1822 by an Episcopal minister named Clement Clarke Moore, May told the story of a reindeer named Rudolph. Rudolph is teased by the other reindeer because of his bright, red nose, but on a foggy night, he guides Santa as he delivers his gifts, becoming a hero.

The story sold over two million copies, and then three million more when the book was reissued in 1946. In 1949, Rudolph's tale was made into the popular song sung by "The Singing Cowboy," Gene Autry. Burl Ives narrated the 1964 film that, to this day, remains a holiday movie classic. The history of his most famous reindeer is just one of the jolly facts you might not know about Father Christmas.

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