Everything I Learned about Christmas I Learned from Watching TV, Part 2: A Place for Misfits

After watching How the Grinch Stole Christmas l knew there was something special about Christmas. But How the Grinch Stole Christmas never says exactly why Christmas is special. I got a clue to answering this question by watching that classic Christmas program Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

The entire plot of Rudolf centers around misfits. The central misfits are Rudolf and the elf Hermey.

Rudolf, obviously, has some kind of genetic mutation. He's got a red nose and that, well, just isn't natural. So he is shunned, mocked, and excluded from the reindeer games.

Hermey has a different problem. He sucks at making toys. And he also doesn't enjoy singing in Santa's elf choir. What Hermey really wants to be is a dentist. But for this curious interest he is, like Rudolf, ostracized and made fun of. They are both, clearly, misfits. This is captured in the mournful little song they sing, "Why am I such a misfit?"

For these scenes and the song see here:

So Hermey and Rudolf leave Christmas Town set out on their own.

The misfit theme is continued when Hermey, Rudolf, and Yukon Cornelius, after being chased by The Abominable Snowman, find the Island of Misfit Toys. This is an island where rejected, unwanted, and unloved toys find sanctuary. Rudolf, sympathetic to the plight of the Misfit Toys, because Rudolf knows what it's like to be a misfit, promises to take their plight to Santa:

At this point in the show all the misfit themes are coming to a climax. We see misfits seeking community, we see empathy as one misfit identifies with another, and, finally, we see one misfit seeking to act as savior. A misfit to save the misfits. A misfit Messiah.

But the theology or Rudolf takes its most radical, surprising, and extreme turn when the personification of evil, The Abominable Snowman, comes back from death in a quirky resurrection event--Bumble's Bounce!--as a peaceable creature who is also in need of loving community. Apparently, this "evil" creature is also a misfit. And the hint is that he's "abominable" because he's been marginalized and without community. Many "evil" people might just be misfits, but twisted due to being isolated for way too long while stewing in their loneliness. Maybe if Rudolf, Hermey and all those misfit toys were left isolated for too long they would also, in the end, become "abominable."

So, summarizing all this, I learned from Rudolf this important lesson about Christmas: Something about Christmas means misfits have a place, a community, a home. Or, rephrased, Christmas means that there are no more misfits.

But I was still puzzled as a child. From How the Grinch Stole Christmas I learned that Christmas was more than presents and Christmas trees. And from Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer I learned that Christmas had something to do with misfits finding a place of love. But in both shows the reason behind it all remained elusive. Why do misfits have a home? And what does being a misfit have to do with Christmas? Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer never says.

So I was quite puzzled. But luckily, there was more TV to watch! And I finally got my answers in an speech delivered by a boy who loved to carry a blue blanket...

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7 thoughts on “Everything I Learned about Christmas I Learned from Watching TV, Part 2: A Place for Misfits”

  1. I'm on the edge of my seat! i love this series. With your permission, I just may use some of these thoughts in a communion talk.

  2. A little off-topic, but the Rudolph story might also explain certain aspects of religious extremism. Many of the new recruits for al-Qaeda are people who feel rejected by society (i.e. people who joined after the Iraq War, which bred a whole new generation of terrorists). Like the Abominable Snowman, they search for their place in the world and, without finding it, become "abominable". What the extremists need is an Island of Misfit Toys, so to speak, where they can feel they belong (maybe something along the lines of a League of Arab Nations).

  3. hacbarton,
    I don't think that observation is off-topic. I wanted to peek in that direction with my take on the Abominable Snowman. That is, "evil" is often created by marginalization. I think I recall reading (and I need to find the reference for this) that urban violence is highest in cities with the greatest rich/poor discrepancies. And I think that plays out internationally as well. As the Tao Te Ching says: "If you overvalue possessions,
    people begin to steal."

  4. Richard,

    Maybe, Linus is a miniature, more transparent William James with the blue blanket being Peter Berger's "sacred canopy." Look forward to the rest of this. But wonder where Snoopy fits: maybe an angel or even the only innocent child in the program, shattering all our easy expectations and putting all our thinking about God into its place?

    God bless us everyone,

    George C.

  5. Hi George,
    I just recently purchased the new biography out about Charles Schulz. My hope is that after I read it to do a series on Peanuts and Theology. There is a book out called the Gospel According to Peanuts which is kind of sweet, but I want to deal more with the existential issues in Peanuts (e.g., the theological implications about why Schulz never let Charlie Brown win a baseball game, win the heart of the red-headed girl, or kick the football with Lucy holding). That is, I want to deal with how darkness is redeemed and coped with in Peanuts. Peanuts as theodicy.

  6. I'm so happy there are others out there willing to recognize the theological value of this tale...

    I blogged about this a couple years ago here.

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