Analyzing Rudolph

Bishop Thomas J. Tobin - Without a Doubt

Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer

Had a very shiny nose.

And if you ever saw it

You would even say it glows.

All of the other reindeer

Used to laugh and call him names.

They never let poor Rudolph

Join in any reindeer games.

Then one foggy Christmas Eve

Santa came to say:

“Rudolph with your nose so bright

Won’t you guide my sleigh tonight?”

Then all the reindeer loved him

And they shouted out with glee:

“Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer

You’ll go down in history!”

Throughout your life you’ve probably been working under the unfortunate misconception that “Rudolph” is nothing more than a cute little Christmas song for children. However, a careful in-depth analysis has revealed that this little ditty is in fact a powerful parable, filled with poignant, if obscure, psychological, sociological and theological themes.

For example, we find that because Rudolph was different, with a “red, very shiny nose,” he was an outcast relegated to the margins of society and rejected by his own peer group. The other reindeer “used to laugh and call him names.” One can only wonder what this did for poor Rudolph’s psyche and self-esteem. How many nights did he cry himself to sleep, his tears freezing to his pillow in the frigid North Pole air? How many sessions of intense psychotherapy did Rudolph need before he was able to climb out of the depths of his emotional abyss?

The song affirms the value of strong and wise leadership. It was Santa who intervened in the reindeer squabble and saved the day, recognizing that what some saw as a liability could be turned into an asset. It was precisely because Rudolph had a “bright and shiny nose” he was able to cut through the dense fog of Christmas Eve and guarantee the prompt delivery of the much-anticipated and long-awaited Christmas packages. No wonder Santa emerged as the “Alpha male” of the pack. His ability to effectively use limited resources and build a diverse and cynical herd into an efficient team is to be recognized and applauded.

“Rudolph” is a reminder of how fickle the crowd can be, swaying with the wind, forming its opinions and actions not on personal conviction but on peer pressure. Notice, at the beginning of the song, the negative influence of the gang mentality. The inconsiderate reindeer dismissed Rudolph as a social misfit. Now all of a sudden, in light of his new found success, they “loved him” and enshrined him in the reindeer hall of fame: “You’ll go down in history,” they shouted shamelessly climbing aboard Rudolph’s bandwagon. Rudolph had every right to say, “Sure Dasher and Dancer, Donner and Blitzen, now you’re my friends. But where were you when I needed you?”

In that light, the song is a soaring tribute to courage and perseverance. What if Rudolph had become depressed over the unusual condition of his nose? What if he had given up when his friends made fun of him? But he didn’t. He stood his ground and waited patiently, confident that his time would come. And did it ever. He and Santa made a formidable team, and in saving Christmas Eve, Rudolph’s vindication was complete. Truly a happy ending to what could have been a very sad story.

Well, in offering this analysis I hope I haven’t ruined “Rudolph” for you, because it is a nice part of the holiday tradition, especially for children. And all silliness aside, the story of Rudolph does contain some themes that resonate with the true meaning of Christmas.

Like Rudolph, we all have some imperfections or weaknesses that tend to hold us back or even set us apart from others. Perhaps, in the eyes of our peers, we’re not very important or successful. But God sees something good in each of us and knows that through the power of grace our liabilities can be turned into something positive. God loves each one of us with an enormous love and it is for that reason He sent His Son to earth – to be with us, to walk with us, to love us and to save us. Though we might “not go down in history” like Rudolph, even better, we have the hope of eternal life. The birth of Jesus is an affirmation of the significance and dignity each one of us has in the sight of God!

To all of our readers, I offer my sincere best wishes and prayers for a blessed and joyful Christmas Season. May the birth of the Christ Child be for you a source of grace, peace and personal affirmation, now and always.

(This article previously appeared in “The Catholic Exponent and The Providence Visitor.”)