I’m talking, of course, about Rudolph. People all over the world know the story of how Santa’s Ninth Reindeer saved Christmas, and possibly Western civilization, when, under orders from the Allied High Command he led Santa’s sleigh on a foggy Christmas Eve raid of the entire world. As Winston Churchill said in his famous speech to Parliament, “Never has so much been owed by so many to so few. And tomorrow morning I’ll be sober, but you’ll still be ugly.”
You know you’re an outcast when even the prime minister teases you for your big red nose—especially a prime minister who was really not in a position to poke fun at another person’s face. I mean, had Winston ever looked in a mirror?
But such mistreatment was nothing new to Rudolph—he was relentlessly teased by the other reindeer for his strange, glowing nose. It is a matter of public record that they laughed at him, called him names, and wouldn’t let him join in any reindeer games. In short, Santa’s reindeer—Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, and Blitzen—were bullies. If there had been a Facebook they probably would have cyber-bullied Rudolph.
The story of Rudolph reminds us that even though the world in unfair, and even through bullies and narcissists run the world, if you just hang in there, remain true to yourself, and don’t get that operation to correct your disfiguring electric nose problem, eventually the guy in charge will realize he can use you, and all his sycophant followers who have rejected you for years will pretend they always loved you and you’ll get a listing in Wikipedia.
You worry, though, that all that success might go to Rudolph’s head—that he’d turn into the bully jerk at the top, and some other reindeer would become the outcast. I can see Rudolph sitting around the pool at a four-star hotel in Vegas, smoking a cigar and drinking top-shelf scotch, a sunglass-wearing, scantily clad reindeer babe next to him, bossing around some small reindeer with day-glo antlers named Rupert.
But what happens after that fateful foggy Christmas Eve doesn’t have any bearing on why the story of Rudolph is so very popular. What matters is that the underdog catches a break, the little guy is recognized, and the status quo is shaken up for the better.
Most of us feel small, powerless, and underappreciated at times, and it’s not at all unusual to feel like your nose is radioactive. It’s reassuring to believe that, in the end, the right thing will happen—the underdog will have his or her day and the underlying fairness of the universe that we are convinced must exist will be revealed—and there is a reason we have this freakish nose. Everyone is redeemed—not just Rudolph, but Santa and the other reindeer, who finally do the right thing.
This is why we love stories like “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.” We root for the underdogs because their success is our success. Underdog stories are about surprise—about the world being turned upside down and the mighty being laid low. Every underdog victory is proof that a miracle can happen—maybe just a little one, but a miracle all the same. After all, most of us only need a small miracle—a place to live; a second or third chance; another day.
Underdog stories are stories for everyone—stories of staying true to ourselves; of not conforming at the expense of our souls, of making our place in the world; of beating the odds when the world has written us off.
You don’t have to be a child to believe in miracles; they happen all the time. They don’t make songs or television specials about most of them because they are private miracles. They are small to the world, but mighty to one neighborhood, one family, one elderly woman. They happen in people’s homes, in hospitals, in church basements, in emails, in classrooms, and in people’s hearts. And they happen all the time—not just one foggy Christmas Eve.