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Holiday Favorites: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

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I have a confession to make. I love Christmas. I always have and I always will. It was a special time when I was young, full of love, laughter, and family. At this time of year, the little boy inside me fights his way past the gruff, shaven-headed, goateed, middle-aged man and takes over for a few weeks.

I love seeing my grandchildren, wide eyed and smiling at the Christmas displays — the bright lights, the trees, Santa Claus and his elves, and reindeer. They love the story of a very special reindeer, the one who led Santa’s sleigh and saved Christmas during the Big Storm, the misfit who turned out to be the most important one of all despite his odd red nose — Rudolph!

The Rankin-Bass classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is my favorite Christmas program. I suppose there is a bit of the misfit in all of us. We’ve all been teased and picked on at one time or another. We’ve all had dreams, some came true, some didn’t, but we had them. There was always someone who scoffed at us for dreaming at all. I emphasized with Rudolph as a boy, and I loved it when he said he was “independent.” I felt much the same, but I was too young to put it into words.

I remember running around my mother's kitchen pretending to throw my pick in the air as I screamed “silver, gold,” only to pick it up, give it a lick, and pronounce I had “nothin'.” I was Yukon Cornelius, and my mother would laugh and tell me to keep trying. Someday, I’d find my gold or silver if I didn’t give up. She was right, I did. My family is my treasure, and in them I’ve found all the gold and silver of my young heart's desire.

I loved Yukon, the big, gruff, but loving man. The loyal friend with the mismatched team of sled dogs always made me laugh. He was a bit loud for most people, but he was someone you could depend on. I’ve known a few Yukons in my life, guys who always seemed to have a plan, no matter how doomed to failure it was, who never gave up, and were always there for a friend.

Hermey, the poor little elf that wanted to be a dentist, was a square peg trying to fit into a round hole. I felt for him, because I was a walking contradiction myself, and still am. I wear leather and bandanas and ride a Harley, but I’m just as content lying under an old oak tree with a good book and a cup of coffee. In a family where only Dad and I were avid readers, this was odd behavior.

While most of my family entered military service and did well, I had to find something else due to a serious injury as a child, a severely broken leg that prevented me from following them. I felt left out and sad, but my Dad took me off to the side and told me God had a purpose for me, that I was special, and that whatever I did with my life, he would be proud of me. I never forgot those words, and I’m grateful to my father for realizing how alone and disappointed I felt, and for doing something about it. I recognized myself in Hermey as well; good-hearted misfits, he and I found a way to fit in.

Then there was Rudolph, the scrappy button-buck with the red nose and big heart who lit up the world and soared on the wings of love, the poor little guy who desperately wanted to please the father ashamed of his ‘imperfection.’ Teased and tormented, feeling he had nothing left to keep him at home, Rudolph set out on his big adventure in a harsh world. Along the way, he faced danger, made friends, found his place and his purpose, and told a generation of kids it was okay to be a little different, and that just one good friend can make the path a lot easier.

I look forward each year to watching Rudolph and his friends triumph once again, to seeing Yukon and his team, the abominable snowman, Hermey, Clarice, the wonderful vocal talent of Burl Ives as the snowman, Santa, and the rest of the family of friends. It’s a joy to watch with a small, loving grandson next to you. I look at him, hear his laughter, and I know just how he feels.

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  • Nishikata Mama

    Yay! Well said, Donnie! I love Christmas, too — not so much growing up, but now that I have kids of my own it’s just magical. The animation in this film is superb, but my favourite part has always been Burl Ives. His voice is one-of-a-kind. If you can find any of his songs for children on CD they make a great gift! I wore my Little White Duck LP out from overplaying it when I was a kid.