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The Story Behind "Rudolf, the Red Nosed Reindeer"

One of the most beloved songs of the Christmas season started out as an advertising gimmick. In 1939 Montgomery Ward tapped advertising executive Robert May to write a poem that their store Santa Claus could give away to children who came to visit him. "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" first appeared in a little booklet published by the department store chain. More than 2.5 million copies were handed out. And by 1946 more than 6 million copies of the poem were distributed.

Rudolph's story came to musical life in 1949 when May's brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, wrote the music. After it was turned down by Bing Crosby and Dinah Shore, singing cowboy Gene Autry recorded it. Today "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" is the highest-selling Christmas carol, at more than 25 million units.

What makes this little carol so loved? Some people might say that it's the pluckiness and courage of Rudolph, the alleged hero of the story. But the real beauty of the story focuses on grace. By grace, Santa chooses Rudolph despite the fact that he's a clear outsider and "reject." He has a defect—his big, annoyingly shiny red nose—that has usually disqualified him from getting chosen for other reindeer games. But despite all the other available candidates, who did Santa choose (or "elect") when the fog rolled in? That's right, the one with the weird shiny red nose. The "weakness" that was considered a liability by Rudolph and his fellow reindeer became the "strength" that Santa used to accomplish his mission.

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