Regional Variation in “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (2017–2020)

⋆✵ · +
10 min readDec 22, 2021

**This article is based on a survey, which can be found here. Please take the survey if you have not before you continue reading. Thank you for your participation!**

Survey link

This article is an updated version of write-ups from the past three years accounting for the new data I’ve collected each year.

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —

Throughout the holiday season and across the world, one can invariably find elementary school students transforming Gene Autry’s recording of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” into a call-and-response shouting match. These little additional lyrics are chanted or shouted at the end of each line of the song. An example from the first two lines of the song:

Autry: Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer,

Children, perfectly synchronized: REINDEER

Autry: had a very shiny nose,

Children, united and deafening: LIKE A LIGHTBULB

But perhaps you sing “LIKE A FLASHLIGHT” instead.

I divided the added lyrics into two categories: repetitive and innovative. Repetitive lyrics largely repeat the last word or two of the preceding line (example: “all of the other reindeer (REINDEER)”. Innovative lyrics add something entirely new, which cannot be predicted from the preceding line (example: “as they shouted out with glee (YIPPEE)”. At the end of the survey I asked three demographic questions: decade when the respondent first learned the song, and the respondent’s home state and city (stressed as optional). All data was collected anonymously and all survey questions were optional.

The survey received 1188 responses. Broken down by country:

· US: 973

· Canada: 91

· British Isles: 76

· Australia and New Zealand: 51

Eighteen responses with other locations or no location were removed, and thirty-three responses were removed for insufficient location data.

I found little variation within the repetitive lyrics: people either followed Gene Autry or said nothing at all. They are as follows:

· Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer (reindeer)…

· …And if you ever saw it (saw it)…

· …All of the other reindeer (reindeer)…

· …They never let poor Rudolph (Rudolph)…

· …Then how the reindeer loved him (loved him)…

· …Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer (reindeer)…

All of the following results are therefore focused on the far more interesting and infinitely creative innovative lyrics.

Responses

A note on how to read the maps: Graphs were made by percentage for each region. Darker red equals more responses for the stated lyric (closer to 1.00 or 100%). Similarly, white means there were no responses for the stated lyric (0%). Black regions did not receive responses for any lyrics associated with the line. “No lyric” and blank responses were not counted in calculating the percentages used to make the maps.

Maps were only made for lyrics that came up in at least 10% of responses from at least one of the four main regions: US, Canada, British Isles, and Australia/NZ. Other responses are listed below the maps. Blank responses were not included, which is the source of the variation in total responses for each lyric.

Charts that summarize the responses by region are also included. Each chart breaks down the responses into three categories: primary responses, which comprised over 10% of responses, and are also shown in map form; other responses, any response with under 10% of responses, and no lyric, which participants were asked to mark accordingly in the survey. Responses that were just repetition of the previous line are not included in the lists of “other” lyrics. The numbers therefore might not match up to the totals.

Finally, lists are given of all the “other” responses. Entries with parentheses, such as (it) glows combine multiple highly similar responses, in this case “glows” and “it glows.”

Now to the lyrics…

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (reindeer) had a very shiny nose (…)

“Like a light bulb” is standard across the US, although a small minority say “like a flashlight.”

“Like a light bulb” is common across Canada.

“Like a light bulb” is standard in the British Isles, but there is also a high rate of “no lyric” response, which continues across the whole song.

“Like a lollipop” is common in Australia, but isn’t used elsewhere. There is an east-west divide between these two lyrics, with “like a light bulb” more common in the east, and “like a lollipop” more common in the west.

And if you ever saw it (saw it), you would even say it glows (…)

“Light bulb” is still the most common lyric, but “flashlight” is relatively common in the US. Its distribution doesn’t seem to be geographically specific.

Like the US, in Canada, both “like a light bulb” and “like a flashlight” are sung.

“Like a light bulb” is near-universal in the British Isles and Australia and New Zealand.

All of the other reindeer (reindeer) used to laugh and call him names (…)

“Like Pinocchio” is overwhelmingly the most common response worldwide. It is slightly weaker in the Ohio/Kentucky/Tennessee region, where “like Dumbo” is also frequently sung.

“Like Pinocchio” is near-unanimous around the rest of the world, but there are a few other lyrics.

They never let poor Rudolph (Rudolph) join in any reindeer games (…)

“Monopoly” is the response of the vast majority of respondents.

While there are a few other responses in Canada, “like Monopoly” is still the standard.

“Like Monopoly” is near-universal in the British Isles and Australia and New Zealand.

Then one foggy Christmas Eve, Santa came to say (…)

The majority of the respondents worldwide said “ho ho ho,” but in New England, the more common response is “in his underwear.” This response is nearly nonexistent in the western US.

Note that “in his underwear” also includes variants such as “in his underpants” and “where’s my underwear.”

Both “ho ho ho” and “in his underwear” exist in Canada, but don’t have the regional distribution of the US lyrics.

“Ho ho ho” is the standard lyric in the British Isles.

“Ho ho ho” is also standard in Australia and New Zealand.

Then how the reindeer loved him (loved him) as they shouted out with glee (…)

“Yippee” is the most common response in the United States.

In addition to “yippee,” Canada also sometimes repeats the previous lyric, “with glee.”

“Yippee” is standard across the British Isles.

“Yippee” is nearly universal in Australia, with the exception of one “weehee.”

Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer (reindeer), you’ll go down in history (…)

This line initiated the most variation. In the US “George Washington” and “Columbus” accounted for most of the responses, but different countries had very different response patterns. This line tends to evoke some sort of well-known figure, and responses tended to show a mix of figures, some from the country and some not. George Washington in particular really gets around.

In the United States, “like Columbus” is more common in the west, and “like George Washington” is more common in the east.

Canada also had a lot of “George Washington,” and also a good mix of Columbus, Elvis, and Wayne Gretzky.

The British Isles really had no consensus on any response. Besides repeating the last line, the most common figures were Shakespeare, Columbus, and Napoleon.

Australia and New Zealand also didn’t really have any consensus, other than repeating the last line. In New South Wales, there is a trend of saying “like page [number],” typically ending in “three” to keep the rhyme. The other most popular answer is “like the dinosaurs.”

My biggest takeaway is that there is more variation in these lyrics than I expected, even if something of a standard version of the lyrics is evident. Some variation is geographical, and some is idiosyncratic. The results were in turns hilarious and nonsensical, and it was delightful to read all the responses and compile the results. I am grateful to everyone who took the survey or helped me share it.

Feel free to direct questions or comments at me here, in the Google form, or wherever you’re reading this.

--

--