Regional Variation in “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (2017–2019)
**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!**
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 969 responses. Broken down by country:
· US: 749
· Canada: 81
· British Isles: 73 (England: 39, Scotland: 14, Wales: 3, Ireland: 5)
· Australia and New Zealand: 48 (Australia: 44, New Zealand: 4)
Other/No location: 18 (not included)
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.
A note on how to read the maps: The maps are based on the percentage of responses with the given lyric. Darker red equals more responses for the 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. “No lyric” responses were not included in the percentages.
Maps were only made for lyrics that had at least 10% of responses. The maps show the most common response(s), and other selected responses are listed in chart form.
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (reindeer) had a very shiny nose (…)
A summary of the results for this lyric:
About 50% of respondents answered “no lyric.” The proportion of lyric/no lyric responses is about half and half everywhere except the British Isles, where about twice as many respondents answered “no lyric” than providing a lyric.
“Light bulb” is standard across the US, although it is less common in the South.
Lyrics besides “light bulb” include:
“Light bulb” is common across Canada as well, although this lyric is less uniform.
Like the US, “light bulb” is overwhelmingly the most popular lyric in the UK and Ireland.
In Australia, there were two common lyrics: “like a light bulb” and “like a lollipop.”
And if you ever saw it (saw it), you would even say it glows (…)
While “light bulb” is used worldwide, “flashlight” appears to be a mainly North American lyric. The rate of “no lyric” responses is lower here, but the British Isles still have about a 50/50 of lyric to no lyric.
“Flashlight” is distributed spottily across the country, but it looks a little stronger in New England.
“Flashlight” looks a little stronger in western Canada, but “light bulb” is the dominant answer.
There was only one other response: “Like a lamp,” in Ontario.
Near-unanimous agreement on “light bulb” in the British Isles.
Mostly unanimous agreement on “light bulb” in Australia.
All of the other reindeer (reindeer) used to laugh and call him names (…)
“Pinocchio” is one of the most widely agreed-upon lyrics. It accounts for two-thirds of responses, while other responses account for less than 10%.
“Like Pinocchio” is the standard lyric throughout the US, although it is a little weaker in the Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee area, where it is often replaced with “like football.”
“Pinocchio” is pretty strong across Canada.
Most respondents agreed on “Pinocchio,” but there were a few other insults of choice:
“Pinocchio” is quite strong in Australia and New Zealand as well.
They never let poor Rudolph (Rudolph) join in any reindeer games (…)
“Monopoly” is also widely agreed-upon, with three-quarters of respondents naming it.
“Monopoly” is nearly universally-chosen, but received fewer responses again in Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee, where “football” is the reindeer game of choice.
“Monopoly” is common throughout Canada, although it is less common in Newfoundland and Labrador and New Brunswick, where “hopscotch” is the chosen game.
“Monopoly” is the near-unanimous lyric in the British Isles.
All respondents chose “Monopoly” as the lyric to complete this line.
Then one foggy Christmas Eve, Santa came to say (…)
There were many potential messages Santa might be conveying, although the classic “ho ho ho” was the most common. Often, he was addressing Rudolph in his undergarments.
“Ho ho ho” is the most common response across the US, but it is weaker in the northern Midwest and Northeast, where “in his underwear” is more frequent.
“Ho ho ho” and “in his underwear” are both frequent lyrics in Canada. “In his underwear” was chosen a little more often.
There is one other lyric, a repetition of “say” from Ontario.
“Ho ho ho” is standard in the British Isles.
“Ho ho ho” is also standard in Australia and New Zealand.
However, Santa might instead greet Rudolph in a uniquely Australian manner:
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 (…)
The reindeer use “yippee” to express their joy most often, worldwide.
In the US, “yippee” is by far the most common response, but there are some variants.
While “yippee” is more common, repeating “with glee” also occurs regularly in Canada.
“Yippee” occurs very frequently in the British Isles, but there is some variation here too:
“Yippee” was a unanimous response in Australia and New Zealand.
Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer (reindeer), you’ll go down in history (…)
This lyric is subject to most variation. There were responses for many different lyrics, often culturally-influenced. This section has more charts, because few responses made it above the ten percent threshold.
In the United States, the two most common responses are “Columbus” and “George Washington.” The latter occurs about three times as often, and is strongest in the eastern half of the country, especially the South. “Columbus” is stronger in the western half.
In Canada, the two most common lyrics are “Elvis” and “George Washington.”
The British Isles compare Rudolph to some native figures, including Shakespeare and the Spice Girls.
In Australia and New Zealand, the most common lyric is just a repetition of the last line, although there are some more interesting responses:
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.