Santa’s Little Helpers

Ho Ho Ho! Merry Christmas! I know, I know, I’m early, but seeing as I won’t be making a new post until the new year, I thought I should do my Xmas special now. To keep things festive, this post will be all about the most famous Christmas animal, the reindeer, and how they became so involved with the holiday.

So, what is a reindeer?

The reindeer, also known as caribou in North America, is a species of deer with circumpolar distribution. They can be found in Northern Europe, Siberia and North America. In addition, reindeer are the only species of deer in which both males and females grow antlers.

Reindeer are built for the cold, as is evident by two layered pelt which is designed to insulate them, as well as their unique hooves which are large and padded in the winter to deal with the snow and small and hard in the summer.

Reindeer are herbivores and primarily feed on lichen. They are the main source of prey for grey wolves as well as being hunted by grizzly and polar bears. Calves are hunted foremost by golden eagles and they are also hunted by wolverines. It is not uncommon for a wolf pack to follow a single heard for years as their main source of food.

Why are they deemed Christmas animals?

It all stems from a traditional festive legend of them pulling Santa’s sleigh on Christmas Eve as I’m sure you all know, but what is the origin of this tale?

The first reference of reindeer pulling the jolly fat man’s sleigh can be found in Old Santeclaus with Much Delight, an illustrated children’s poem that was published in New York in 1821. The names of the author and illustrator are unknown.

But the famous eight are first seen in the 1823 poem A Visit from St. Nicholas by Clement C. Moore. The relevant part of the poem reads:

When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
but a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny rein-deer,
with a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.

More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and call’d them by name:
“Now, Dasher! Now, Dancer! Now, Prancer, and Vixen!
“On, Comet! On, Cupid! On, Dunder and Blixem!

“To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
“Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;

So up to the house-top the coursers they flew, 

In case you were curious, Dunder and Blixem are the Dutch words for thunder and lightning. Their names were changed to the German version of thunder and lightning (Donder and Blitzen) when Edmund Clarence Stedman reprint the poem to include the 1844 spellings.

Rudolph would not be seen until 1939 whn his story was originally written in verse by Robert L. May for the Montgomery Ward chain of department stores, and published as a book to be given to children in the store at the festive season. According to this story, Rudolph’s famous glowing red nose made him a social outcast among the other reindeer. One year, Santa Claus’s worldwide flight was doomed by severe fog. Visiting Rudolph’s house to deliver his presents, Santa noticed Rudolph’s glowing red nose in the darkened bedroom and decided to use him as a makeshift lamp to guide his sleigh. Rudolph, of course, accepted St. Nick’s request to lead the sleigh for the rest of the night, and he returned home a hero for having helped Santa Claus.

So, there you have it guys, the Christmas miracle that is reindeer. I hope you enjoyed this post as much as I enjoyed writing it. Please feel free to comment on this post or any of my others and if you have a request for a future post, please let me know. You won’t hear from me until the new year so….

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