For much of my adult life, I had a problem with the story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. I’ve always watched the Rankin/Bass animated Rudolph specials with glee, and sang along to the song whenever I heard it during the Christmas season. I still do. But underneath the child-like joy I felt, there was always a niggling displeasure with it that I couldn’t pin down. A couple of years ago, I finally figured out what it was.
So, here’s the story in a nutshell:
Rudolph is born with a deformity—a shiny red nose that glows. Because of the deformity, the other reindeer laugh at him, call him names, bar him from the reindeer games, and essentially ostracize him. Then one foggy Christmas Eve, Santa Claus realizes that Rudolph’s nose will cut through the bad weather and asks him to guide his sleigh team. Rudolph agrees, saves Christmas, becomes a hero, and suddenly everyone wants to be his friend and he’s invited to all the reindeer games.
Here’s my problem. As someone who was bullied as a kid, it kind of sticks in my craw that as soon as the other reindeer figure out that Rudolph’s deformity works to their advantage, they want him in their world. They couldn’t just accept him for what and who he was; he had to be of some use to them in order to be accepted. The bullied child in me wants to see an alternate noir version of Rudolph’s story in which he tells Jolly Old Saint Nick to fuck off and the reindeer to stick their antlers up their asses sideways.
Oh, sure, you need me now? Well, see that steaming brown pile over there? You can eat that first, and then maybe—just maybe—I’ll fucking save Christmas for you, you elitist, judgmental, ass-sniffing assholes.
But I think it took my realizing this for me to realize something else: this is where teachable moments come in. Rudolph wasn’t just accepting the friendship of those who had spurned him, he was showing them that even those who are different have something to offer society. Those who don’t fall into the accepted “norms” are useful and worthy, and they, too, can be heroes. Think Forrest Gump.
Now, Rudolph could have really held a grudge. He had every right to turn his back on Santa, the reindeer, and Christmas. After all, he’d been completely disenfranchised from that whole scene. I mean, shit like that could’ve driven Rudolph to drink. But he didn’t, and it didn’t.
In Rudolph’s story, the bullies did learn. And that’s the best possible outcome that can be hoped for. It’s unfortunate that not every story ends this way, and not likely to when the president of one of the most powerful countries in the world is allowed to mock people who are not like him (physically abled, white, rich, sporting a penis, etc.). But we don’t know which situations will turn for the better if we don’t try.
So, Rudolph’s message is: Don’t hold a grudge. Don’t stay angry. When people who have hurt you want to make it right, let them. It will be one less pain that you will carry.
I wish for nothing but peace and justice this holiday season. I hope you all have a happy, healthy, and safe one. And may 2017 be better.
Peace on Earth.