Santa Claus: Time Traveler Or Scam Artist?

When Nathan was six, he announced there was no such thing as Santa Claus. “Mom, that’s ridiculous! How can one man travel around the world and deliver all those presents in less than twenty-four hours? It’s just not possible.”

Cameron continued to believe until he was way into double digits. He knew if he kept believing, he’d get more presents. Nathan refused to indulge his mother, choosing to dash his younger brother’s hopes into the ground. Yes, well, that’s Nathan. Next time you see him in town, please tell him that he ruined a beloved childhood tradition for his mother. But I’d expect nothing less from my completely logical kid. 

Instead of bringing presents in Nathan’s stocking, like the rest of the family, Santa began a new tradition. He delivered reindeer poop, made with cookies, cream cheese, and dark chocolate. Sometimes I’d put a red gumball in Nathan’s stocking, telling him that Rudolph left his nose as proof of his existence. 

During college I’d sign up Nathan for letters from Santa, with a weekly update from the North Pole of all the news. I’m sure he threw them into the trash, but I rejoiced in teasing my son.

Strangely, though, one Christmas movie we could all agree on was Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. In the spirit of Christmas, I researched the history of our favorite northern deer.

Our story begins in 1939 with a Jewish Chicago copywriter named Robert May. He worked in the ad department of Montgomery Ward, a department store chain second only to Sears as America’s largest retailer. Every year, they purchased Christmas coloring books from a vendor and gave them away to children of all ages. In 1939, they decided to create their own. Montgomery Ward told May to create the coloring book and “make it about an animal.”

The same year, May’s wife contracted cancer. When she died a few months later, he struggled to raise their young daughter Barbara alone. His employer suggested he stop working on the coloring book and turn in what he’d completed. But May refused, writing years later, “I needed Rudolph now more than ever.”

Remembering his daughter’s love for the deer at the Lincoln Park Zoo, May invented a young reindeer with a shiny nose. He thought this creature might become a symbol for himself and Barbara, reminding them that happier times lay ahead. He was right.

When Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer came out at Christmas 1939, it was an instant hit. Montgomery Ward gave out 2.4 million copies, and only stopped issuing it afterwards because of wartime restrictions on paper. When they resumed in 1946, it was even more popular.

For all his efforts, Robert May received nothing more than his salary. But that changed in 1947. Sewell Avery, the head of Montgomery Ward, gave all the rights for Rudolph to the copywriter. It was the first time the company had ever done so. Was he moved by Christmas spirit? Whatever the reason, it makes for a wonderful Christmas story.

In the spirit of Rudolph, here’s a recipe for reindeer poop. I credit

  • 18 Oreo cookies
  • 4 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • ½ cup dark chocolate

Crush cookies in food processor and pour into bowl. Add softened cream cheese and fold together. Roll mixture into 1 ½ spheres, and give each a flat bottom (like a Hershey’s Kiss). Place on baking sheet lined with wax paper. Chill for an hour. Melt candy using double boiler or microwave. Dip half of each candy into melted chocolate.