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Santa's reindeers

[ This text is also available in Swedish ]

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.

The Night Before Christmas
Clement Clark Moore (1823)

The means of transport for St. Nick (or Saint Nicolaus, or Santa Claus as he's better known today) had, it appears, been given little thought until Moores'¹ poem. But then this fact, among several, was established; today everybody knows that Santa has a flying sleigh drawn by reindeers (though rather full scale than miniature).

Reindeer or caribou² are easily recognized, in particular from the characteristically curved antlers and the head that's held low when traveling:

Reindeer - real 2
Rangifer tarandus

One might, then, wonder what kinds of animals people have chosen to associate with Santa. Some are obviously deers, some less obviously so, and then there are some strange cross-breeds that doesn't resemble anything really, even as cartoons:

Reindeer - fake 1 Reindeer - fake 2 Reindeer - fake 5

Reindeer - fake 3 Reindeer - fake 6 Reindeer - fake 4

Reindeer - fake 8 Reindeer - fake 7 Reindeer - fake 9

Now, I'd happily rate this as nitpicking, had it been just a little easier to find actual reindeers among the myriads of decidedly non-reindeer creatures-with-antlers that abound.

Santa's cows

I don't know what difference it would make for anyone, but since the reindeers are always portrayed with antlers, you can tell they are probably female, since the bulls usually shed their antlers well before Christmas. There appears to be some differences between Scandinavian reindeer and American caribou, but on the other hand:

[...] it's not impossible that a male reindeer could retain his antlers as late as December 24, just not necessarily the norm. And that's not nearly as unusual as a fellow who lives at the North Pole, spends the year making toys for millions of children all over the world, and manages to deliver all of them in a single evening.


The red-nosed reindeer is not in the 1823 poem.

More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;
"Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Donder and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!"

The Night Before Christmas

Rudolph was created in 1938 (published in 1939). The song, without which he might have been all but forgotten, was written some years later.

You know Dasher and Dancer
And Prancer and Vixen,
Comet and Cupid
And Donder and Blitzen,
But do you recall
The most famous reindeer of all?

Jonny Marks (1949?)

¹ The authorship has been questioned, though Moore is generally acknowledged.

² Regarding the reindeer/caribou-question, I quote Marie Gilbert: "Although the similarities between reindeer and caribou are numerous, the differences are enough that they are classified as two subspecies. [...] Domestication is the biggest difference between reindeer and caribou.

The Night Before Christmas, also known as "Twas the Night Before Christmas"
Wikipedia: Reindeer; A Visit from St. Nicholas Reindeer Games; Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Marie Gilbert, University of Alaska: Reindeer... Caribou... What’s the Difference?

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