There are many traditional characters associated with our modern-day celebration of Christmas and some of the best known and loved are Santa’s reindeer – but just how did it come about that Santa had reindeer ….? Of course, we all know that it is a very closely guarded secret – but we can do a little investigation to see what we can see…
Reindeer were long held in mystical wonder by people way before Christmas became what we know it as today. They were seen to represent safe journeys, travelling, endurance and strength. They were revered as wise, gentle and noble creatures, who looked after each other and were strong survivors in the very harshest of climes. All these qualities would make them a very fine choice for Santa, who having originally tried goats to pull his sleigh, decided an upgrade was required and swoped the goats for reindeer.
So how did Santa’s reindeer get their names? Obviously Santa named them for his own reasons long, long ago – however, the cat got out of the bag when some blabbermouth (who wisely chose to remain anonymous!) wrote a poem that quoted, Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen.
An interesting observation is that Santa’s reindeers have antlers in December – this would suggest that they are female, because male reindeer shed their antlers before Christmas time; whereas female reindeer keep their antlers all year round – so it looks like Santa’s sleigh runs on girl power!
Another well-known fact is that the reindeer ‘click’ as they move – this is true of many of their kind, it’s actually a feature of a tendon in their hooves and the noise helps them to stick together, especially during a particularly snowy blizzard. Personally, I’ve heard that the clicking noise might relate to some form of navigation system that Santa uses…but this is unconfirmed.
The famous Rudolph was a late comer, apparently due to one particularly foggy Christmas Eve night when his obviously glowing nose was seen as a helpful guide for the sleigh. Just how did he come to have such a handy honker? Well, all reindeer have a rich blood supply in their noses, giving them a slightly reddish tinge; but Rudolph is blessed with an especially bright and red one. Robert L May produced an exposé in his poem – Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer – in 1939 and music was put to this a decade later to produce the world-famous festive song.
Our other burning question is – how do Santa’ reindeers manage to fly? Well obviously Santa is keeping well and truly tight lipped about it, so we are forced to speculate and there are a few possibilities: perhaps another creature taught them – a kindly bird or even a friendly bee maybe? Another theory is that they eat a little something magical to help get them off the ground – there are some fungi in those parts that might do the trick and give them a lift! More likely is that they are a distinct sub species that have an inherited an ability to fly. Either way, unfortunately we are only able to guess.
You may be wondering just what the reindeer do for the rest of the year? Obviously they need a good, long rest after their exertions from Christmas Eve and they like to chill out (!) and enjoy a munch on their favourite food – lichen and leaves. As a reward, we hear that Santa treats them to a grain mix to help get their strength back up.
After a well-deserved break, the reindeer go back into training: they go for runs far and wide – they are masters of migration and can really cover a lot of ground; they also train at pulling sleighs to maintain their muscle tone. As well as concentrating on their physical prowess, the reindeer also attend lessons on aerial navigation and route planning, which helps them get around the world in the most efficient time possible, whilst being sure not to miss anyone out. Then, as the nights begin to get longer and darker, we hear that they undertake covert flying lessons, where they have the chance to hone their aeronautical abilities, ready for the big day.
Naturally there is a back up team or two of reindeer who train alongside the A team, just in case one of them is needed to step in – that way, Santa can rest assured that he will always have a trusty reindeer line-up to power his sleigh.
Santa was once heard to say that he wouldn’t be able to do his job without his trusty reindeer crew, “they are really very deer to me!” he laughed…