Starting the Holidays Right
As soon as the Thanksgiving meal was tucked inside us, our five year-old started begging for Christmas to begin. He was "in the Christmas mood" and wanted us to get out the decorations as soon as we returned from Grandma's house, possibly before unloading the van.
Poor sports that we are, we denied him this dive into decorating mode, as the house is a pit and I must clear the decks before decking the halls. We compromised on our return with hauling out the Christmas movies and hanging a wreath on the front door. Predictably, he chose Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, one of our family favorites. I made him popcorn, and he and my wife hunkered down for a good dose of Christmas cheer and stop-motion intolerance. Two years ago, I wrote an article Rudolph, and here it is:
Rudolph before Title Nine
Like many red-blooded, middle-class American lesbian moms, we spend the month of December decorating, overeating, shopping, visiting relatives and watching holiday television on DVD. We started with a bang December first by watching the original stop-motion Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer at our eleven year-old daughter’s request. She thought it would be a memorable beginning to the 2006 holiday season.
Well, you could say that--we’re not likely to forget that this was the year it was mere seconds into the movie before the social commentary started. The older two were aghast that Donner was so critical of his newborn son, that Santa was red-nosed intolerant, and I couldn’t help pointing out that not only was Hermie a dentist wanna-be, he had clearly been a theatre major in elf college, and with that hair was probably playing for our team. Maybe that was why he would “never fit in.”
This was when my wife suggested we were ruining it for our three year-old (so I shut up and started taking notes), but even he said, “Santa is not a nice guy,” when Santa told Donner he “should be ashamed of himself” because his son was different than all the rest.
It was around then that it dawned on me that our kids thought this was some kind of ridiculous lampoon, rather than a reflection of the judgment, conformity and strict separations of race, class and gender that we, their parents, grew up with. It was unfathomable to them, living in our lovely, liberal bubble, that there was a time when being unique was intolerable, girls had to wear dresses to public school, boys were beaten for shedding tears, and shaming was considered a powerful and effective tool for disciplining children.
My wife and I had been in blissful ignorance of the bigotry in Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer when we first revisited it fifteen years ago with our oldest. We were full of childhood memories, all ready to sing along with, “Why am I such a misfit,” only to have our jaws drop at how the misfits are treated by Christmas Town and how Santa runs his workshop without an EEO policy, an HR rep to mediate on Hermie’s behalf, or diversity training for the elves.
So while we were ever-so-aware when we popped Rudolph into the VCR, it was a big year for revelation among our children. Our eleven year-old asked, “Why are the girls all standing around?” when the young bucks were learning to fly, and I told her, “This was before Title 9.” Our fifteen year-old son could hardly believe the Coach Comet character, encouraging all the other bucks to ostracize Rudolph after he was “outed” during practice with the loss of his false nose.
I think my own budding feminism was fed back in 1970 by lines like “this is man’s work” and “the important thing was to get the women back to Christmas Town.” If I’d owned a bra, I would have burned it, though my wife says she’d watched it without a single rebellious thought as a child, numbly nodding her head to Burl Ives’ voice.
Admittedly, I’ve watched it too many times over the years, maybe our whole family has. Even our three year-old can quote it extemporaneously and do the voices of the mocking reindeer, the brutish elf boss and the Abominable Snow Monster of the North—who, by the way, seems like yet another misfit reject from Christmas Town, crying sour grapes and hating everything about Christmas to protect his fragile ego.
Misfits are the appeal of Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, whether we identify with Rudolph, Hermie, Yukon Cornelius (with his life sustaining supplies of “cornmeal and gunpowder, ham hocks and guitar strings”) or the Abominable Snowman (who was surely scarier when I was five, lying on two-inch avocado shag carpeting in Los Angeles, than for kids today, who’ve seen the World Trade Center Towers fall, dinosaurs come to life in Jurassic Park, and have lock-downs at school because of armed meth addicts in the neighborhood). But every kid feels like a misfit at some time or another. We’ve all felt like we belonged on another planet or the Island of Misfit Toys (and spent hours trying to figure out what was wrong with the little red-haired doll). We’ve all wanted to run away and hide when our difference was causing pain, and an island full of toys is an appealing oasis.
Though why King Moonrazer thinks Santa can find homes for the misfit toys when he knows Rudolph has run away from Santa’s bigotry like a homeless gay teen escaping his self-righteous rejecting parents, is beyond me.
Not that I take Rudolph so seriously; I couldn’t resist remarking to my kids that Hermie the dentist and runaway Rudolph were “bucking the system” by being independent together. Like any red-blooded American kids, they ignored me.