You’ve heard the song. You’ve seen the animated television special. Neither one is entirely accurate, nor are they good press for the North Pole. It’s high time to set the record straight.
“Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer had a very shiny nose…” — it’s true, his nose glows like one of those lights you see on top of radio transmitters. It’s pretty bright, and in the black nights of the arctic winter, you can see him for miles. That’s pretty much the only part of the story that people get right.
“All of the other Reindeer used to laugh and call him names…” — first off, you can’t tell what reindeer are talking about if you are a human. They communicate in a very different way. Sure vocalizations are part of it, and they let you know when they are hungry or want their stables cleaned out (a horrible job of which I have first hand knowledge). But their primary forms of communication are posture and scent. A person could not ever know if Prancer was calling Dancer a name.
First hand accounts from people I’ve interviewed suggest that after Rudolf was weaned, he was simply run out of the herd. Of course, he couldn’t play games with them. The North Pole staff then adopted Rudolf as a sort of mascot, and everyone, including Santa, was aware of his presence. (We seem to take any kind of nut case with a story to tell up here).
I could be wrong here but if Rudolf’s nose was any color other than red well, his future and his history at the North Pole may never have grown into the legend it has become. But his curse was also his blessing the festive color red is almost worshipped here. At first, there was a huge competition to get Rudolf adopted by those who wanted to use him for their own domestic outdoor seasonal decorations a huge hobby here at the North Pole. But Santa had wiser uses of his, um, talents.
Now, you can’t really blame the reindeer for not wanting Rudolf around. I mean, having a beacon for a nose is definitely an undesirable mutation, especially in an animal regularly preyed upon by wolves. No, there aren’t any wolves at the North Pole, but reindeer aren’t natives here either. And they’re a little suspicious and skittish by nature. They don’t want to take any chances. So Rudolf, as cold as it sounds, just had to go.
In wild animal terms, sacrificing one member of the herd to prevent constant predatory pursuit upon everyone else is a good trade. It’s not like they didn’t “like” Rudolf. He was kind of viewed like insurance salesmen or Amway reps. Sometimes tolerable, but easily expendable.
“Rudolf with your nose so bright, won’t you guide my sleigh tonight?” — to really understand why Santa needed a light at the front of the sleigh you need to know a little about how one of these vehicles works. First off, you have a set of reins that you use to control the lead animals: pull right to turn right, pull back to slow down etc. The rest of the reindeer simply follow the first one (or two) in line. It’s very important that they see that lead animal and don’t get confused and start pulling in a different direction.
Which brings up the second point of the operation of a sleigh.
It’s a very delicately balanced conveyance, as every kid who has a sled with rails knows. If you are flying up around ten thousand feet that balance becomes critical. The reindeer absolutely must follow that lead team (or individual, in the case of Rudolf) exactly, otherwise the whole contraption will come tumbling out of the sky and, as you know, most body shops are closed on Christmas.
So, Rudolf has this bright light, which, since reindeer lead with their noses, points out to Santa and the rest of the team exactly where he is headed. Santa didn’t need any help with navigation (as the Christmas special on TV seems to indicate). He’s been flying the same route long enough that he knows it better than the back of his hand. (We use mittens a lot up here; you don’t see the back of your hand amazingly often.)
“Then how the reindeer loved him…” — If that’s true it’s certainly isn’t obvious. Rudolf still mostly hangs out around the manufacturing and residence complex, and most of his contact is with people. The rest of the reindeer seem to respect him, and they still practice together, but “love”?