Reindeer are the endearing beast of Christmas. But fact and fiction have been mixed to create our Christmas images, stories, songs and films.
Reindeer do live in the far north in both Eurasia and North America. They are very large animals, up to 7 feet tall with huge antlers.
The artists renditions don’t do them justice. They look more like their cousins, the deer, that live around here.
Unlike other deer species, both male and female reindeer have antlers,
While both male and female reindeer grow antlers in the summer each year, male reindeer drop their antlers at the beginning of winter, usually late November to mid-December. Female reindeer, however, retain their antlers until after they give birth in the spring. So all of the reindeer having antlers at Christmas would be female.
There are not a lot of antlers to be found. The mice eat them. They are high in calcium.
In North American these creatures are referred to as caribou. They are the same species but are not domesticated. And as such they are a larger and stronger and faster. They can run up to 80 km/hr.
Even the domesticated reindeer can pull a sleigh an impressive 40 km/h.
Instead of leaving them a carrot on Christmas Eve they would prefer moss, grass, herbs, and berries.
And their noses can really turn red. When it is particularly cold, blood flow in the nose increases. This helps keeps the nose surface warm when they root around in the snow looking for food; plus, it is essential for regulating the animal’s internal body temperature.
The indigenous peoples have lived with domesticated reindeer for two thousand years. They are important to the cultures for food, transportation, clothing, and tools.
Climate change is having a dramatic effect on reindeer populations and they may be come as fictional as Santa Claus.
There has been a lot of fiction written about these reindeer at Christmas.
In the Norse and German mythology of the permeated pagan beliefs , Thor, the god of Thunder was soaring the skies in his sleigh pulled by 2 large horned goats.
In Sweden the tradition of the Yule Goat lives on. It is believed to help in the delivery of presents around the world.
In the majority of the early stories of Santa Claus/Saint Nicolas there are no reindeer. He didn’t live in the North Pole. He'd just show up out of nowhere and drop off some gifts.
1821 was The first reference to Santa's sleigh being pulled by a reindeer appears in "Old Santeclaus with Much Delight", anonymous illustrated children's poem published in New York.
1823 Clement Clarke Moore's classic "A Visit from Saint Nicholas" or “A Night Before Christmas” really made the reindeers famous
1902 L. Frank Baum's (Wizard of Oz) wrote story The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus Inn 1998 this was adapted into a television special.
1939 Rudolph comes. It is a marketing ploy. Robert Lewis May wrote a book for the department store, Montgomery Ward, that he worked for. It is said that, inspired by his own social awkwardness as a child and his daughter's love of deer, he created a reindeer who was a bit of an outcast. There were 6 million copies distributed by 1946.
1949 The author's brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, turned Rudolph's story into a song.
So who are all these Christmas reindeer we read and sing about?
Baum’s reindeer are:Flossie and Glossie, Racer and Pacer, Fearless and Peerless, Ready and Steady, Feckless and Speckless. (rhymed pairs). The movie version leaves out all the names but Flossie and Glossie.
Clement's reindeer are: Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Dunder (not Donner) and Bliksem (not Blitsen). Later versions changed them.
(Note they all have names that say they can fly gracefully and really fast. Cupid is the god of love in Roman mythology, a boy who carries a bow and arrows and has small wings. Dunder and Blixem are Dutch words that translate to thunder and lightning.)
You may think of other reindeer names, "Olive, the other reindeer", "Howie and the reindeer loved him", "Andy shouted out"