Well, I don’t know them personally but…

Dec 8, 2021 | 0 comments

I was first introduced to Santa’s reindeer through Clement Moor’s 1823 poem, A Visit from St. Nicholas, better known to me as Twas the Night Before Christmas.  It was probably my father who made the the introductions as he was the one who usually read to me at bedtime.  I’m sure I knew all their names from the get-go — Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen — and I never questioned whether or not they could really fly.

I understood from the beginning, I think, that Santa and all the magic surrounding him represented the spirit of Christmas.  That was enough for me to be a true believer.  ‘Nor did I ever question whether or not I would have presents under the tree on Christmas morning.  Naughty or nice or a lump of coal never came into it.  Just like “unconditional love” (which I also never heard of until I was an adult), the joys of Christmas were an accepted part of family life.  Looking back, I realize how lucky I was.

It’s interesting, though, that Rudolph never became the ninth reindeer in my mind.  Though he was introduced through a little booklet in 1939 by Montgomery Ward Department Store, I’m sure I never heard of him until he was recorded in song by Gene Autry in 1949.  That’s a little strange since I was three in ’39 and my father worked for “Monkey Wards” from 1941 until 1946 as General Manager of their Catalog Order Department for the Western States.  Wouldn’t you think that Rudolph booklet by Robert L. May (who created it as an assignment for Montgomery Ward) would have made it home to our house, maybe even as a Christmas present?  But, perhaps my father was a traditionalist, as am I.

And then there was “Olive, the other reindeer” who was used for several years by Nordstrom’s for their Christmas mascot.  I loved that name and the entire concept, but no matter how clever or what the rational, I know in my heart that there are only eight reindeer who pull Santa’s sleigh.  And even though Mr. Moore, himself, changed the spelling of Dunder to Donder and of Blixem to Blitzen, I feel I know them best by the names my Daddy first read to me.  I’m not sure who was responsible for dropping the second ‘d’ in Donder and replacing it with another ‘n’ — but so be it.  I know that all eight are gearing up for the holidays right now, just as I am!

One more note of interest:  Santa’s reindeer are all female!  According to Edinburgh University professors Gerald Lincoln and David Baird, only  female reindeer still have antlers at Christmas; the males of the species shed their headgear before mid-December.  “Male reindeer actually cast their antlers before Christmas, so they don’t have any antlers at Christmastime,” says Lincoln. “They have their mating season in autumn when they use their antlers to fight, but once it finishes they cast them…” Female reindeer use their antlers to defend food in small patches of cleared snow and generally keep their antlers until their calves are born in May.

Who knew?  Judging from the names he gave his eight, Mr. Moore hadn’t a clue.


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