Regional Variation in “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (2017–2018)
**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!**
This article is also an updated version of last year’s article, accounting for the new data. Data from outside in the US is featured more prominently within this version.
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.
Noticing these discrepancies, I began to investigate them two years ago, via a Google Forms survey peddled around various corners of the internet. 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 816 responses. Broken down by country:
· US: 618
· Canada: 75
· British Isles: 66
· Australia and New Zealand: 43
· Other/no location: 14 (not included)
I found basically no 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.
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 states did not receive responses for any lyrics associated with the line.
Note that charts were only made for lyrics that had at least 10% of responses. The charts show the most common response(s), and other selected responses are listed in chart form. Blank responses were not included, which is the source of the variation in total responses for each lyric.
The charts are fairly self-explanatory, but again I didn’t count blank responses. “Other” responses that were just repetition of the previous line are not included in the charts, which is why numbers might not match up.
Now to the lyrics…
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (reindeer) had a very shiny nose (…)
“Light bulb” takes precedence across the US. but is a bit weaker in the South, where “flashlight” is used instead.
“Lightbulb” and “lollipop” occur across Australia.
And if you ever saw it (saw it), you would even say it glows (…)
“Light bulb” is still more popular, but “flashlight” occurs in greater numbers for this second lyric than it does in the first.
“Lightbulb” is popular throughout Australia.
Canada mirrors the US in lightbulb/flashlight popularity.
“Lightbulb” is also popular in the British Isles.
All of the other reindeer (reindeer) used to laugh and call him names (…)
“Pinocchio” is strong throughout the US, and around the world.
There are a great variety of names that Rudolph is called around the world. Such insult potential!
They never let poor Rudolph (Rudolph) join in any reindeer games (…)
Similar to the last lyric, Monopoly is agreed upon somewhat unanimously.
Then one foggy Christmas Eve, Santa came to say (…)
“Hohoho” is common throughout the US, but is less common in the Northeast, where the lyric is instead, “in his underwear.”
Similar to the US, two lyrics are popular in Canada. However, the regional specificity does not seem to be as prominent here.
Rudolph with your nose so bright, won’t you guide my sleigh tonight? Then how the reindeer loved him (loved him) as they shouted out with glee (…)
Yippee is by far the most popular lyric worldwide.
Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer (reindeer), you’ll go down in history (…)
This lyric has some consistency in the US and Canada, but elsewhere, no lyric is obviously the most popular. The variants are shown below in charts instead.
“George Washington” is more popular in the eastern half of the country, and “Columbus” is more popular in the West, although “George Washington” is more popular overall.
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.