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Fifty Shades of Red

Since we at the North Pole started receiving e-mails, I’ve received one question repeatedly: “Why do you wear red?” Closely related FAQs include “Where do you buy your suits?” (Mrs. Claus makes them) and “Who is your image consultant?” (an elf named Gingerbread in our Wardrobe department) and “How can you kill polar bears for their fur, don’t you know that climate change is wiping them all out?!” (don’t worry, the fur is faux!).

Anyway, about the red. It didn’t used to be all red, all the time, you know. Back in Lycia—now modern-day Turkey—I also wore white or brown. As my gift-giving enterprises extended northward, I had to alter my wardrobe to accommodate the colder climate. I had a long green robe that I was very fond of for quite some time, but even then I didn’t confine myself to a single color.

Right up through the 1900s I liked to change things up every Christmas. Sometimes I wore a tan suit, others years I chose purple robes. Yellow even made an appearance one year—a ghastly mistake given my skin tone. Never again. I also altered my beard, hair, and hat quite often. Believe it or not, I was quite the dandy!

Eventually I noticed just how popular and prevalent newspapers and magazines had become, and how many different drawings they carried of me. Sometimes the illustrations were quite nice, but usually they were horribly inaccurate—I was often illustrated to look like some kind of little gnome! There are many words that describe me, but “little” is just not one of them…

That was when I decided to manage my image more closely. We (Gingerbread and I) decided it would be best if I chose a single outfit, beard length, hat style, etc., and then discreetly leaked it to the newspaper editors that this was Santa’s new look. I wanted a color that would stand out against the winter sky, while feeling jolly, warm, and happy at the same time. I also planned to repaint the sleigh and overhaul the reindeer’s harness, so that everything matched.

And that’s when the problems really started. You see, matching a matte finish fabric to the color of a gloss finish paint is quite tricky. We spent weeks hemming and hawing over dozens of fabric swatches and paint chips. It was a few days into this process that I discovered Gingerbread is actually somewhat colorblind, the poor dear. Even Mrs. Claus was stumped for a color that could meet my criteria.

One day, when I had just about given up on finding the perfect color, I went for a walk in the Christmas Tree forest. I was so deep in concentration that I almost walked into my neighbor, Jack Frost. We chatted for a bit about the weather, our wives, and how well the fir trees had grown that year; you know, neighborly small talk. Eventually, he asked why I looked so worried, so I told him about my color dilemma.

Now, Jack and I have had our differences over the years, and he can be quite a troublemaker, but you can’t fault his fashion sense. He is a snappy dresser, what with all the silver and blue and crystals and whatnot. After hearing my problem, he said, “When you fly in your sleigh, the perfect color is right in front of you.” I couldn’t figure out what he meant, because from where I sit in the sleigh, what’s right in front of me is all reindeer butts…

I thanked him for his advice, and headed back to the reindeer barn. Icicle, the elf in charge of the reindeer, was getting the team hitched for our afternoon practice flight. They were all buckled in, so I fished in my pockets to see if I had a treat with me. I found a small carrot, and offered it to young Rudolph, at the front of the team—and then it hit me! His shiny red NOSE was what was in front of the sleigh! The glowing crimson of it was the perfect color: cheerful, joyous, and highly visible!

The rest is, as they say, history. That very evening we painted the sleigh red. Over the next few days Mrs. Claus made me a set of red trousers with matching coat and hat, and Icicle dyed the reindeer’s leather harness red. For each project we used Rudolph’s nose as the standard. The color—“Rudolph Red”—was such a hit that we haven’t changed it since!

Favorite Poem

A visit from St. Nicholas Poem by Clement Clarke Moore

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