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Why I Love Rudolph
My unexpected childless holiday tradition
For a long time, I could not have even conjured the possibility of sitting myself down and taking in a holiday tv special. These potentially glorious childhood throwbacks naturally reeked, for a good many years, of what should have been.
In addition to my tv special brain blockage, there have also been other holiday obstacles to contend with. Having done four of my ten fertility treatments over consecutive Januaries, the winter holidays had already been smashed to pieces by the time I realized I’d be involuntarily childless for the rest of my life. Not exactly a great running start (never mind my February birthday that would inevitably follow on the heels of yet another useless investment and sacrifice). A few years later the bazaar and frenzied onset of my nervous system disorder happened in December, forming a virtual conjunction with Christmas. And with the restaurant business generally holding the reigns of my home and family life, options for reinventing the holidays continue to be slim.
For many years the notion of reworking the winter holidays was irrelevant anyway – it didn’t matter what I did or didn’t do amid this cesspool of darkness and I knew it. Putting up a tree felt agonizing. Not having a tree felt agonizing. Trying to determine which was fractionally less worse was agonizing AND depleting. I’d marvel at how Mother’s Day, my original childless IF survivor nemesis, shrank in comparison to the sensation of being swallowed whole by the weeks, if not months long winter holiday season.
Having come through much of this, I haven’t found joy on the other side, as one might be conditioned to expect. I haven’t found holiday excitedness or giddiness either, and furthermore, I’m good with that.
What I have found so far is some “okayness” and contentment surrounding the mere fact I survived. And that the inevitable sadness I carry does not bleed into overwhelm all that often, if at all. This to me is astounding. Just simply this. My middle aged involuntarily childless self now takes my relative holiday neutrality in with the breathless wonder invoked by a first winter snow.
Within the folds of this transition a few years ago, I remember noticing I wanted to watch Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, and so I did. In a pool of one part pleasure, one part cringe, missing my children all the way. In doing so though, I became appreciative of this traditional holiday special that is actually an ode to the misfits of the world, an anthem for those of us unwittingly in possession of something not of a dominant social norm.
I wasn’t able to find out if Rudolph is broadcast in other countries and in other languages, but here in the US it’s been a holiday staple since before I was born.
While I seem to be in a somewhat different gear now, I too can still get bogged down by the “spirit” of this season. Though dampened during these globally intense times, the tailor made for families with children tone of December is still present. And the airwaves rife with charities vividly and unabashedly appealing to the needs of “families” (read: people with children) – not ALL human beings as it should be. Helping the sick, the poor and the elderly regardless of parented status seems to be an icon of the past.
What better way then to balance this out a bit than to view a special that kicks off – after it’s initial charming pleasantries – with the rantings of an ungrateful, self absorbed father. Okay, so he’s a stay-motion animation reindeer if we’re getting technical, but stay with me here. Practically before Rudolph can utter his first word, his father Donner is saddling up his parented status, consumed with what’s really important in life – impressing Santa and putting all stock in Rudolph making the sleigh team one day.
And his immediate reaction to Rudolph’s glowing nose? Not curiosity or compassion or interest as I know everyone in our crew appreciates (since we don’t get much of that either). Donner’s reaction to Rudolph’s nose is pure suppression. Must. Feign. “Normalcy.” At. All. Costs. Sound familiar??
Misguided authority figures are part of this special’s charm. Even Santa doesn’t have it right, which happens to be a perfect fit for my slashed illusions of Christmas. Santa scolds Rudolph, telling him he’ll have to change his nose if he ever wants to make the sleigh team. A change that, notably, is entirely impossible. In short, Santa Clause is a total A-hole. But all of this is just the beginning. In addition to clueless, short sighted people of influence, this special is boundlessly packed with other thematic material resonating with my childless infertility survivor experiences.
The societal ideal of conforming to your pre-determined role in life is on full display, holes and all. After a brief flirtation with the glee of acceptance (having his affections returned by doe Clarice and realizing he’s good at flying), Rudolph is disbanded from his peer group – by the over zealous gym teacher on crack sled team leader – because of his nose.
On the other side of Christmastown, elf Hermey is being ridiculed by the incredulous dictator head elf for not liking to make toys and for voicing his inherent calling, dentistry. Ouch. A complete horror for the conformist elfs of the world, apparently.
Is this all feeling eerily deja vous to anyone? The “You’re THIS, therefore THIS is what you’re supposed to DO and if you don’t do it you’re OUT” theme, and not being able to join in any reindeer games? Hmmm.
Either way, with the misfit theme robustly developed by minute ten, I’m totally IN.
While Rudolph’s nose is accepted and admired by Clarice (who is a symbol of the unconditional love and witness everyone needs but that becomes more rare once you’re sporting a major difference), he knows he must strike out on his own.
On his way, he starts to find his tribe in Hermey the elf/dentist, and their journey is what you’d expect on a path stemming from difference followed by disownment – harrowing, wayward and uncertain.
Enter Yukon Cornelius (my favorite) to round out the tribe of outliers – a prospector representing, I think, the optimistic adventurer within us we all need when shucked off our expected life paths.
They find themselves on the island of misfit toys – the symbol of all symbols and one I’ve been using ever since my trying to conceive days. The themes of loneliness and hopelessness pervade this place that hosts toys who didn’t quite fit the mold (try a Charlie in the box, a bird that swims instead of flies and a train with square wheels on the caboose) and “had” to be outcast because of it.
Thinking they found their home, they request permission to stay but are denied on the basis only toys can live there. At which Yukon Cornelius bellows incredulously “Well howduhya like THAT? Even on an island of misfits we’re misfits!!!” Truer words were never spoken. For me this is an experience I’ve lived many times over, within both the infertility and childless communities during my last decade.
Rudolph’s time on his own matures him (because doesn’t it always?), and he takes a minefield of a journey back home. Eventually though, as it only can in fantasy land, all things resolve well.
Those Christmastown residents who originally engaged in orthodoxy have realized they are wrong and that “maybe misfits have a place too.” (DUH!)
Hermey, Rudolph and even the abominable snow monster are recognized for their talents and abilities to contribute (hey people, it’s an idea!!).
While the conventionalists of Christmastown are able to keep its status quo humming along, it’s notably the misfits who rise to the occasion in the equation. In addition to the above, they used their talents to disarm the abominable snow monster, saving Rudolph and his family. Not to mention they easily band together and support each other in the face of difference. In short, misfits get shit done.
So amid a season full of potential joys for parents and children, even during these trying times, it’s a relief to be able to sit down and relish the watching of something universal that is also very much my story. It means there’s actually a little something out there for me too.
I’ve been doing it for the last couple of years and I plan to do it every year, commemorating my holiday season by raising a cup of hot chocolate or perhaps something a bit stronger to the misfits of the world.
In one of Santa’s last lines during sleigh take off he booms “Okay, Rudolph…..FULL POWER!!!!!!”
Yes. Absolutely yes.
2 thoughts on “Why I Love Rudolph”
You just made me love one of my favorite holiday movies even more!! Awesome post!
Yeah – cheers to the the “misfits”!!