You most probably know the names or at least some of the names of Santa’s reindeer from the 1949 hit ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’ (bet you probably sang that in your head), but where did they originate from and are there 8 or 10 of them?
The origin of Santa’s reindeer
Back in 1823, the poem ‘A Visit from Saint Nicholas’ or most commonly known as ‘Twas the Night before Christmas’ by Clement Clarke Moore referred to the ‘eight tiny reindeer’:
‘now Dasher! Now Dancer! Now Prancer and Vixen!
On Comet! On Cupid! On Donder and Blixem!’
By the late eighteenth century, children in the former New Amsterdam regarded Santa by ‘Sante Klaas’ from ‘Sinter Niklaas’, a Dutch name for St Nicholas which forms the basis of his name to this day. Donder and Blitzen are also Dutch names from ‘donder en bliksem’ which translates to ‘thunder and lightning’, a phrase which was a mild form of swearing in nineteenth century New York but was also modified in 1844. Moore changed the name of Blixem to Blitzen as it better rhymed with Vixen. Also in the ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’ song, Marks changed ‘Donder’ to ‘Donner’ but there is some uncertainty whether he knew it was German or the word sounded better.
The other names of Santa’s reindeer we can assume they were for the purpose of a memorable name to bellow when he rode off on his sleigh and also names that rhymed and fitted to an iambic metre. Dasher and Dancer for example, are both metered and alliterative names and follow the tradition of naming animals after attributes. There is some uncertainty about this as it is also believed that the inspiration originated from the Norse god of thunder, Thor especially as in myths he rode a wagon through the skies which was led by his two goats named Gnasher and Cracker.
But the poem does not mention any name of Rudolph, so where did the most famous reindeer come from? Rudolph doesn’t actually appear in historical records until the twentieth century. Although the lyrics of the Rudolph song, written by Johnny Marks, were taken from the poem ‘Twas the Night before Christmas’, the character itself was actually based on a character crafted by the Montgomery Ward marketing team in 1939. The name Rudolph first appeared in a storybook by a Chicago department store’s adman Robert May to promote the holidays. It wasn’t until a decade later that this name was adapted into the hit song.
How many reindeer are there?
Santa originally had 8 reindeer and it was until 1939 that Rudolph came into the scene to make 9. But through the years, lyrical confusion sparked a 10th name to Santa’s herd. Olive, ‘The Other Reindeer’, has been taken from a misunderstanding on the lyrics of the ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’ song. Instead of “All of the other reindeer”, some people have thought it to be “Olive, the other reindeer” and so this mistake has generated a new reindeer character.
The personalities of Santa’s reindeer
One of Santa’s fastest reindeer, Dasher originally came from the German word “Dascher” which means ‘purse maker’ in English, so Dasher can even sew!
Prancer is a very loyal reindeer and is often found in the factory with the elves prancing around with them. Prancer also has to look his best all the time as he never knows who he might meet next.
Vixen loves to put on a great show and show off with his magic tricks. He can be quite cheeky though when with the other reindeer as he likes to play tricks on them, but Santa loves his magic tricks as they can come in super handy on Christmas Eve when delivering presents.
Easy going and loves to play ball games with the fawns, Comet is the reindeer that all the children look up to and he loves the attention! He also has some words of wisdom, inspiring children to be on their best behaviour.
Cupid is the affectionate reindeer who often carries mistletoe. Cupid has a sweet tooth and mince pies are her favourite so make sure you leave them out on Christmas Eve! She also loves to sing much to the other reindeer’s annoyance!
Originating from the Dutch word for thunder, Donner is always noticed when he enters a room due to his deep booming voice. Like Cupid, he also loves to sing, especially with his twin Blitzen who are duet together.
From the Dutch word for ‘lightning’, Blitzen is a fast and playful reindeer, just like a lightning bolt. He’s always on time as a result!
Santa’s guiding light, Rudolph joined after the original 8. He is a shy reindeer and at first was very self-conscious about himself and his red nose which many used to make fun of. It wasn’t until Santa recognised his shiny bulb of a nose as a gift in order to light the way with his beacon of light and lead them through snowy conditions. He loves to play hide and seek too, when he’s not working, although he does have an advantage against the other reindeer as he can light up dark spots in order to find his friends.
Santa’s reindeer are female?
Santa’s reindeer have been depicted as males throughout the media but science proves that these depictions are in fact wrong. Experts have stated that his reindeer are female as male reindeer lose their antlers in early December when mating season has ended, whilst female reindeer keep theirs throughout winter. As Santa’s reindeer’s are depicted with antlers, this can only lead to the conclusion that it is females that power the sleigh through the sky during the night of Christmas Eve each year.