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Article Archive >> Community

Points to Ponder: The gift of Rudolph

Points to Ponder
The gift of Rudolph
By Pastor Whitmore
Weekly Contributing Writer

December 1938. In a drafty, two-room apartment in Chicago, young Bob May had to explain to his four-year-old daughter Barbara why her mommy was different from the other kids' mommies. Bob's wife Evelyn had been fighting a losing battle with cancer. It had cost them their savings and most every other possession of value to just keep going. Evelyn wanted to be involved in Barbara's life, but she was too weak. Nobody else's mom was like hers, so little Barbara felt different, so excluded among the other neighborhood children.
Bob May was an advertising copywriter for the Montgomery Wards department store chain. One night, he sat Barbara on his lap and began to weave a story. Drawing on his writing skills and the sad experiences of his own childhood, Bob May told his little girl about a tiny reindeer who also felt lonely and excluded because he had a bright, shiny, red nose. Every night, he would add details to the story about little "Rudolph" that made him seem very real to Barbara.
There was no money for presents that year, so Bob produced a homemade storybook, complete with hand-drawn illustrations. It was a heart-wrenching project to complete because, just a few days before Christmas, Evelyn died. Bob knew that now more than ever Barbara would need her reindeer friend. And she was thrilled when she found under the Christmas tree her own copy of Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
His coworkers at Wards were ecstatic about Bob's book, and begged for copies of their own. Stewell Avery, the chairman of the board, bought all rights from Bob, helping to alleviate some of his debt burden. Then in 1939, Wards began a six-year long tradition of giving a free copy of Rudolph to each child who visited Santa at one of their stores.
The demand for the books grew across the country. Publishers were eager to print a revised version. So, Stewell Avery made an incredible decision. He gave back to Bob May all the rights to his book. The following year, 1947, the mass market release of Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer, along with the related toys and products, made Bob a very rich man. All of this from a story, made up by a heartbroken dad, to comfort his worried little girl.
Bob remarried and was blessed with a growing family. His brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, a composer, wanted to set the story to music.
The popular Christmas singers of that era, Bing Crosby and Dinah Shore, wouldn't do it. Cowboy singer Gene Autry listened to the song and didn't like it. Marks begged him to listen again; at least record it on the "B" side of his upcoming album. He said no, but when his wife heard, "they wouldn't let poor Rudolph play in any reindeer games," she was moved and insisted he record it.
So, in a concert at the Madison Square Garden rodeo, he sang Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer and was shocked by the crowd's overwhelming response. It became Gene Autry's 1949 holiday hit, soaring to number one on the charts; the second best-selling Christmas song, just behind White Christmas.
It was a story that had been loved by many and a song that some of the biggest singers rejected. Yet in the end, the humble writer and his humble tale still conveys a message to millions.
A lonely four-year-old feeling left out of her little world, sits on the lap of her daddy whose heart is breaking with grief. Rudolph comes to the imagination, embodying the feelings they both felt. He was so different, just like them.
But being different is what makes you special. And being special can make you feel excluded. Yet at the right moment, it is the gift that keeps on giving, because somebody else who is down and out needs to be lifted up and welcomed in. And only that special someone, equipped by experience, can do it. Isn't that the Christmas story?
"And she brought forth her firstborn Son and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn"
(Luke 2:7).
The late Rev. Ralph Stockman once said, "The hinge of history is on the door of a Bethlehem stable. God came through that door."
* Source: Ace Collins Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas (Zondervan, 2001).

Hilltop Christian Fellowship, 12624 Trinity Church Drive, Clear Spring. Listen to Rev. Whitmore on WJEJ-1240 AM, Tues and Thurs at 10:45AM and 10:45PM. www.hilltopchristianfellowship.com.

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