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Loving Our Differences by Jim Loduha

Christmas time should be a season when we warmly embrace one another, especially in our differences. It should be a hopeful time when we extend radical love and inclusion to all. I am reminded of the story behind the overly familiar Christmas carol Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer as told in the book Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas by Ace Collins. There is more than a shiny red nose to the story, and it is as relevant today as it was then.

The creator of Rudolph, Bob May, wrote it in 1938 as the Great Depression wound down and his wife, Evelyn, was losing a two-year battle with cancer. In their drafty, two-room Chicago apartment, Bob May held his four-year old daughter in his arms and struggled to answer the child’s question, “Why isn’t my mommy just like everyone else’s mommy?” He recalled the pain he had always felt growing up because he had been considered different. May had been a small, thin child, constantly picked on by other children, called “sissy” and other names he didn’t want to remember.

Despite having a college degree, the country’s sorry financial state had made it almost impossible for May to find any other job than a job as an advertising copywriter at Montgomery Ward’s that was far beneath his skill level. Yet when he found Evelyn and they fell in love and married, Bob suddenly felt like a king. For the first time he had a place in the world where it was all right to not fit the mold. Their daughter’s birth seemed to assure the man that good times were just around the corner. But then Evelyn got sick and the cost of fighting the cancer stole not only his wife’s energy but the family’s savings as well. Bob sold everything of value and the lived in what amounted to a slum.

But on that cold, windy night, even with every reason to cry and complain, Bob wanted his daughter to somehow understand that there was hope…and that being different didn’t mean you had to be ashamed. Most of all, he wanted her to know she was loved. Drawing from his own life experiences, the copywriter made up a story about a reindeer with a large, bright red nose. And as little Barbara listened, May described in story for not only the pain felt by those who were different but also the joy that can be found when someone discovers her or his special place in the world.

rudolphThrough books, records, television specials and movies, for millions of children of all ages, Rudolph has become as much a symbol for the secular wonder of the Christmas season as Santa Claus. While there are many lessons to be learned from this magical story – including that while it takes courage to be different, being different can be a blessing – there is an even greater lesson from this story and song that is now all but forgotten: When you give a sincere gift of love from the heart, that gift will come back to you magnified beyond all expectations and measures. It is a lesson that the fictional Rudolph and the very real May family are still living more than six decades after the story was first told.

Read the full story in “Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas” by Ace Collins.