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  • Writer's pictureMaureen Seel

Life Lessons from Christmas Movies: Rudolph's Red Nose and Learning to Love Your Strangeness.

After my husband and I picked up and moved to Brooklyn, New York, with our crazy dog and two cats, I started to focus almost exclusively on my mental health. In some ways, this was good (probably discuss this further in a future blog), but in others, it was draining. I stopped going to support group because I was spending all day processing my midlife crisis through writing my memoir, "I'm Not Bad" (shameless plug. My blog, I can do what I want.) Not to say that process wasn't rewarding or even necessary, but it wasn't exactly "fun".

So yesterday, when I decided to watch "Elf", I came up with an idea. I love Christmas movies. And this is the time of year when my husband has to indulge my over-the-top obsession with and adoration for this holiday season. Whether or not you believe that Christmas is Jesus' birthday or not (you historians I know have opinions) or celebrate the holiday at all, I think anybody can appreciate some of the beautiful life lessons these wonderful (if, at times, cheesy) movies have to offer.

When I started to compile my list, I didn't think of movies everyone already liked. Instead, I thought about the movies that had the biggest impact on me as a child and as I grew older. I also chose movies that I think have lessons and ideas that can impact anybody for the better. With that unnecessary explanation out of the way, I thought I'd start off this series with one of my all-time favorites: Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer.

For those who don't celebrate Christmas or haven't seen the movie, I will give you the simple version of the story:

At the North Pole, Santa has a lot of reindeer. Young reindeer train to become better fliers so that one day they can fly with Santa on Christmas night. One such young reindeer was named Rudolph. Unlike other reindeer, Rudolph had a red nose. Not only was his nose red, it "glowed" "Like a lightbulb". Needless to say, this "oddity" of Rudolph's wasn't welcome by his father or the others in the North Pole community. It made him different. And in the world of this story, different is bad. Rudolph gets fed up with people being assholes to him and decides to run away. Along the way, Rudolph makes other friends: Herbie, the elf determined to become a dentist, and Yukon Cornelius, the optimistic, but ultimately unsuccessful prospector looking for gold and silver.

Rudolph's nose is the source of his perceived problems for most of the movie, as he is followed constantly by the abominable snowman (aka Yeti) who is seemingly drawn to Rudolph's nose for...reasons? Since he perceives his flaw to be the source of everyone's problems, Rudolph once again strikes out on his own. This lands him in trouble and he does wind up having to confront the Abominable Snow Monster when his love interest, Clarice, and his parents are captured. Already too-long story short, Herbie and Yukon save the day when they catch up to Rudolph and defeat the snow monster. After Herbe pulls all of the monster's teeth, he's deemed to be harmless and actually helpful in decorating the too-tall trees for the elves (don't get me started on how he just has his entire mouth full of teeth taken from him and then is forced into decoration duties).

Everyone apologizes to Rudolph for being closed-minded and cruel about his "anomaly", he forgives them and everyone goes about preparing for the holiday. However, that night a blizzard moves in along with heavy fog, and Santa throws up his hands, as this means he cannot fly. We're just going to assume it is a global blizzard, as, according to Santa, he can't even get his sleigh off the ground unless it stops. All seems lost. That is until Santa remembers his bright-shiny red, glowing-nose-possessing friend, Rudolph. Somehow his nose which shines like a lightbulb can cut through the worst global storm ever. Suddenly, his quirk which everyone considered so strange that they would publicly mock him was now an asset to Santa and will actually save Christmas for everyone.

Ok so it wasn't a short explanation, but it is a very nuanced claymation movie, after all. So what kind of life lesson can I hope to contrive from this admittedly cheesy (and a touch creepy) movie? As someone who absolutely loves the holidays, I have to admit that as a holiday movie, this is not my absolute favorite. But the lesson here is applicable: whether we view what makes us unique as mere differences or as a disadvantage is all about perspective. So here I have for you, three reasons to embrace your own "red nose" and start seeing your strangeness as what makes you unique, not unworthy.

First, Clarice said it best: "I think it's a fine nose. Much better than that silly false one you were wearing." Putting on a happy face, pretending to be who people want you to be, and going through life being someone you're really not is downright exhausting. It is stifling. In the movie, Rudolph's father covers Rudolph's shameful glowing nose with clay. As Rudolph speaks, he sounds stuffed up, like when you have a bad cold. He sounds uncomfortable and probably is. He can't just be who he is and breathe at ease. At least he can't around the wrong people. Clarice and Rudolph's mother never tried to cover up what made Rudolph unique. Neither did Yukon Cornelius or Herbie (unless it was for safety reasons). This particular concept hit home this year.

After we moved to New York, a lot of crap from my past came back to haunt me, namely family stuff. As a result, I had several conversations with family members about not just shared past struggles but about my sexual identity and the fact that at this near-midpoint in my life, I was tired of pretending to be someone I wasn't. I was tired of pretending to be happy when I wasn't. When I finally expressed to my friends and family that I consider myself queer, I'm a survivor of abuse and I am an artist, not an academic, those Yukons and Herbies in my life were at my side, as only real friends and family can be. Those who didn't understand and don't support me might want me to put that clay nose back on, but why should I? I'm more comfortable without it. And yeah, I might be weird, but I'd rather be around people that allow me to be my weird self instead of exhausting my emotional and mental energy trying to make others more comfortable.

The second lesson we can learn from Rudolph's story is that sometimes you have to do the scary thing. Telling everyone that your nose is red and you're proud of it is a terrifying prospect. I never said it would be easy. And maybe you're not ready to show your red nose to everyone, but think about those in your life that you know support you-the Yukons and Herbies of your life. If you know someone will be there to catch you, the jump can be less scary. If Rudolph hadn't left his home, he wouldn't have met his "tribe". He wouldn't have found his people. He would have continued being ashamed of who he really was, covering up what made him unique. He had to run away. He had to confront the snow monster. He had to stand up to his father and Santa, his boss. Or he would have spent the rest of his life in the shadow of the opinions and criticisms of others.

Lastly, I think the final and most important lesson of embracing differences is not for the Rudolphs among us, but for the Santas and the disappointed "other reindeer". What makes us different is not a weakness. In the end, Rudolph's crazy red nose saved Christmas. When we all stop seeing our own little eccentricities and oddities as a weakness and start seeing them as strengths, that is when we can all come together and not only be happier people but kinder people. And isn't that what this holiday is really all about?

So what is your red nose? I love that this movie focuses so much on embracing the "misfits" among us. Did you see this movie when you were growing up? What kind of impact did it have on you? You'll always find a Yukon Cornelius here. Kindness in the comments, please and a happy holiday to you all. Tune in for the next movie up for discussion: A Christmas Carol.

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