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12 Shiny Facts About Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

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You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen, and by now you certainly know Rudolph as well. But Rudolph wasn't always the star of the show—he didn't even exist until 1939, while the rest of Santa's coursers have been around since Clement Moore's 'Twas the Night Before Christmas, which was written in 1823. Here are 12 other facts you might not know about the world's most famous reindeer.

1. RUDOLPH WAS CREATED FOR MONTGOMERY WARD.

In 1939, execs for the Montgomery Ward department store decided they needed a character for the freebie coloring books they were handing out to kids who visited Santa. That character ended up being Rudolph, who was an immediate hit with the kiddies. Montgomery Ward gave out 2.4 million copies of the Rudolph booklet in the first year alone.

2. THE WRITER WHO INVENTED THE CHARACTER WAS GOING THROUGH A DIFFICULT TIME.

Robert May, a copywriter for Montgomery Ward’s mail order catalog division, was the employee tasked with writing a story and creating a marketable character for the coloring book. May started the process in early 1939, but that summer, his wife died from cancer, leaving him a widower with a 4-year-old daughter. Though his boss tried to reassign the project, May insisted on finishing it himself. “I needed Rudolph more than ever,” he later admitted. He completed the story in August. Though Montgomery Ward could have kept the copyright for themselves, they handed it over to a financially struggling May in 1947.

3. HE COULD HAVE BEEN ROLLO OR REGINALD INSTEAD OF RUDOLPH.

Other names were considered before May settled on the name we know today. Rollo was rejected for sounding too sunny and happy; Reginald sounded too British. Romeo and Rodney were also in the running.

4. MAY’S ORIGINAL STORY IS A BIT DIFFERENT THAN THE SONG.

In the story May told in that original coloring book, Santa finds Rudolph while delivering presents to the reindeer village. In the story, Santa often had problems delivering gifts because no one remembered to leave lights on for him—and in Rudolph’s dark house, Santa “tripped on the rug, and fell flat on his back.” When he discovers Rudolph and his glowing nose, a lightbulb of his own goes off, and he invites Rudolph to help him with the rest of his drop-offs. Dutiful Rudy leaves his parents a note, then helps save the day.

5. RUDOLPH ALMOST USED A DIFFERENT METHOD TO GUIDE SANTA’S SLEIGH.

Instead of having a red, glowing nose that cut through the fog, May considered giving Rudolph large, headlight-like eyes that would light the way. After much consideration, he decided mean kids would be more likely to make fun of a red nose than huge eyes.

6. FINLANDERS KNOW RUDOLPH AS PETTERI PUNAKUONO.

Petteri is Rudy's Finnish counterpart. The Finnish legend of Santa Claus (a.k.a. Joulupukki) doesn't name his reindeer the same way we do—Dasher, Dancer, Donner, and so on—so the beginning of the song doesn't start out the same way. Instead of running through the laundry list of reindeer, the Finnish version translates to something like, "You remember Cinderella, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty, Little Red Riding Hood and the Grey Wolf, but this reindeer is often forgotten."

7. HE HAS A SON NAMED ROBBIE.

At least he does according to the BBC. They developed three cartoons based on Rudolph's offspring, but the name of Robbie's famous dad is never actually mentioned. The plotline tells us that the villain of the series, Blitzen, can't stand to hear Rudolph's name. In reality, it's because the BBC couldn't get permission to use it (or didn't want to pay to use it).

If you haven't seen the British version but still remember Robbie, that's because Fox Family ran the show for a few years in the early 2000s with redubbed voices, including Ben Stiller as Robbie, Hugh Grant as Blitzen, Britney Spears as Donner, and Brad Garrett as Prancer.

8. THE RUDOLPH SONG WAS RECORDED A DECADE AFTER THE CHARACTER WAS INVENTED.

It was May's brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, who wrote the lyrics for the famous song; Gene Autry recorded it. Autry nearly passed on the tune, but his wife urged him to give it a shot. With more than 150 million copies sold, it’s now the second-best selling Christmas song ever, right behind Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas.”

9. SONGWRITER JOHNNY MARKS SPECIALIZED IN CHRISTMAS SONGS.

We have him to thank for Rudolph, obviously, but also "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day," "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree," "Silver and Gold," and "A Holly Jolly Christmas" (in addition to a bunch of lesser-known Christmas songs). The irony? Marks was Jewish.

10. RANKIN/BASS WASN’T THE FIRST TO FEATURE RUDOLPH ONSCREEN.

Though the 1964 Rankin/Bass stop-motion TV special is the longest-running holiday special ever, it wasn't the first to bring Rudolph to the screen. That honor goes to Fleischer Studios, which copyrighted this cartoon in 1948 as more advertising for Montgomery Ward:

11. THE PUPPETS USED IN THE RANKIN/BASS SHOW WERE REDISCOVERED IN 2006.

When they resurfaced, they did so on Antiques Roadshow in 2006. Well, not all of them—just Santa and Rudolph. A woman who worked for Rankin/Bass had stored them in her attic since at least the 1970s. Prior to that, she let her kids play with them. Rudolph lost his red nose, and let’s not even talk about how Santa lost his eyebrows. The puppets were fully restored after their trip to Antiques Roadshow and have since been displayed at the Center for Puppetry Arts. The new owner hopes the puppets can go on tour so more people can enjoy them.

12. THE SONG IS STILL COPYRIGHTED.

Along with "Jingle Bells," "Deck the Halls," and "Silent Night," “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” is a Christmas staple. Unlike those other three songs, however, “Rudolph” is still copyrighted and his image is trademarked. The makers of Rudolph’s Reserve ale found this out the hard way in 2003. They later changed the name to “Rude Elf’s Reserve.”

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Big Questions
Where Should You Place the Apostrophe in President's Day?
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Happy Presidents’ Day! Or is it President’s Day? Or Presidents Day? What you call the national holiday depends on where you are, who you’re honoring, and how you think we’re celebrating.

Saying "President’s Day" infers that the day belongs to a singular president, such as George Washington or Abraham Lincoln, whose birthdays are the basis for the holiday. On the other hand, referring to it as "Presidents’ Day" means that the day belongs to all of the presidents—that it’s their day collectively. Finally, calling the day "Presidents Day"—plural with no apostrophe—would indicate that we’re honoring all POTUSes past and present (yes, even Andrew Johnson), but that no one president actually owns the day.

You would think that in the nearly 140 years since "Washington’s Birthday" was declared a holiday in 1879, someone would have officially declared a way to spell the day. But in fact, even the White House itself hasn’t chosen a single variation for its style guide. They spelled it “President’s Day” here and “Presidents’ Day” here.


Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Maybe that indecision comes from the fact that Presidents Day isn’t even a federal holiday. The federal holiday is technically still called “Washington’s Birthday,” and states can choose to call it whatever they want. Some states, like Iowa, don’t officially acknowledge the day at all. And the location of the punctuation mark is a moot point when individual states choose to call it something else entirely, like “George Washington’s Birthday and Daisy Gatson Bates Day” in Arkansas, or “Birthdays of George Washington/Thomas Jefferson” in Alabama. (Alabama loves to split birthday celebrations, by the way; the third Monday in January celebrates both Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert E. Lee.)

You can look to official grammar sources to declare the right way, but even they don’t agree. The AP Stylebook prefers “Presidents Day,” while Chicago Style uses “Presidents’ Day.”

The bottom line: There’s no rhyme or reason to any of it. Go with what feels right. And even then, if you’re in one of those states that has chosen to spell it “President’s Day”—Washington, for example—and you use one of the grammar book stylings instead, you’re still technically wrong.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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10 Things You Might Not Know About Chinese New Year
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Some celebrants call it the Spring Festival, a stretch of time that signals the progression of the lunisolar Chinese calendar; others know it as the Chinese New Year. For a 15-day period beginning February 16, China will welcome the Year of the Dog, one of 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac table.

Sound unfamiliar? No need to worry: Check out 10 facts about how one-sixth of the world's total population rings in the new year.

1. THE HOLIDAY WAS ORIGINALLY MEANT TO SCARE OFF A MONSTER.

Nian at Chinese New Year
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As legend would have it, many of the trademarks of the Chinese New Year are rooted in an ancient fear of Nian, a ferocious monster who would wait until the first day of the year to terrorize villagers. Acting on the advice of a wise old sage, the townspeople used loud noises from drums, fireworks, and the color red to scare him off—all remain components of the celebration today.

2. A LOT OF FAMILIES USE IT AS MOTIVATION TO CLEAN THE HOUSE.

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While the methods of honoring the Chinese New Year have varied over the years, it originally began as an opportunity for households to cleanse their quarters of "huiqi," or the breaths of those that lingered in the area. Families performed meticulous cleaning rituals to honor deities that they believed would pay them visits. The holiday is still used as a time to get cleaning supplies out, although the work is supposed to be done before it officially begins.

3. IT WILL PROMPT BILLIONS OF TRIPS.

Man waiting for a train.
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Because the Chinese New Year places emphasis on family ties, hundreds of millions of people will use the Lunar period to make the trip home. Accounting for cars, trains, planes, and other methods of transport, the holiday is estimated to prompt nearly three billion trips over the 15-day timeframe.

4. IT INVOLVES A LOT OF SUPERSTITIONS.

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While not all revelers subscribe to embedded beliefs about what not to do during the Chinese New Year, others try their best to observe some very particular prohibitions. Visiting a hospital or taking medicine is believed to invite ill health; lending or borrowing money will promote debt; crying children can bring about bad luck.

5. SOME PEOPLE RENT BOYFRIENDS OR GIRLFRIENDS TO SOOTHE PARENTS.

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In China, it's sometimes frowned upon to remain single as you enter your thirties. When singles return home to visit their parents, some will opt to hire a person to pose as their significant other in order to make it appear like they're in a relationship and avoid parental scolding. Rent-a-boyfriends or girlfriends can get an average of $145 a day.

6. RED ENVELOPES ARE EVERYWHERE.

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An often-observed tradition during Spring Festival is to give gifts of red envelopes containing money. (The color red symbolizes energy and fortune.) New bills are expected; old, wrinkled cash is a sign of laziness. People sometimes walk around with cash-stuffed envelopes in case they run into someone they need to give a gift to. If someone offers you an envelope, it's best to accept it with both hands and open it in private.

7. IT CAN CREATE RECORD LEVELS OF SMOG.

fireworks over Beijing's Forbidden City
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Fireworks are a staple of Spring Festival in China, but there's more danger associated with the tradition than explosive mishaps. Cities like Beijing can experience a 15-fold increase in particulate pollution. In 2016, Shanghai banned the lighting of fireworks within the metropolitan area.

8. BLACK CLOTHES ARE A BAD OMEN.

toddler dressed up for Chinese New Year
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So are white clothes. In China, both black and white apparel is traditionally associated with mourning and are to be avoided during the Lunar month. The red, colorful clothes favored for the holiday symbolize good fortune.

9. IT LEADS TO PLANES BEING STUFFED FULL OF CHERRIES.

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Cherries are such a popular food during the Festival that suppliers need to go to extremes in order to meet demand—last year Singapore Airlines flew four chartered jets to Southeast and North Asian areas. More than 300 tons were being delivered in time for the festivities.

10. PANDA EXPRESS IS HOPING IT'LL CATCH ON IN THE STATES.

Box of takeout Chinese food from Panda Express
domandtrey, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Although their Chinese food menu runs more along the lines of Americanized fare, the franchise Panda Express is still hoping the U.S. will get more involved in the festival. The chain is promoting the holiday in its locations by running ad spots and giving away a red envelope containing a gift: a coupon for free food. Aside from a boost in business, Panda Express hopes to raise awareness about the popular holiday in North America.

A version of this story originally ran in 2017.

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