In most Christmas stories, Santa Claus has eight reindeer. They help him to deliver gifts to children by pulling his sleigh around the world, on Christmas Eve. Like Santa Claus himself, his reindeer too are figments of imagination and do not actually exist. In scientific terms, the reindeer is a species of deer that is found only in the Arctic region. Since Santa Claus is believed to reside in the North Pole, his steeds too have an Arctic origin.
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
Story behind the Reindeer
Till the early nineteenth century, there was no one standard Santa Claus. His appearance depended on the traditions prevalent in the region. The character of Santa Claus assumed his current physical characteristics based on the publication of the poem 'A visit from Saint Nicholas' in 1823. This poem is also known as 'The night before Christmas' or 'T'was the night before Christmas'. It was initially published anonymously but subsequently has been attributed to the author Clement Clarke Moore.
The poem became very famous after it was published and led to the adoption of the reindeer as Santa Claus' mounts. The following lines deal with them.
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tinny reindeer,
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 called them by name;
Now Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! On, Cupid! on, on Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!
Position of the Reindeer in the Sleigh
In the poem, Santa Claus has a small sleigh with eight tiny reindeer, who are able to fly. The poem does not provide a physical description of the reindeer themselves. It also does not mention what positions they occupy, while pulling the sleigh. If the reindeer were placed in the same order as they appear in the poem, then their positions in the sleigh can be obtained. The reindeer are both male and female, and are called out alternately. Taking this into account, two lines of the reindeer emerge. The left line is said to contain the male reindeer in the order Dasher, Prancer, Comet, and Donner. The right line will have the female reindeer in the order Dancer, Vixen, Cupid, and Blitzen.
Descriptions of Each Reindeer
Each reindeer has been assigned a description, based on its name. Dasher is said to be the leader of the reindeer. He is also the fastest among all of them. Dancer leads her side of the sleigh. Her name implies that she is graceful. Prancer stands behind Dasher and is said to be the most powerful reindeer. On the other side stands Vixen. She is beautiful and her power makes her the female counterpart of Prancer.
Comet is the fifth reindeer and is said to make children happy, when the sleigh flies over their homes. His partner is Cupid, who brings love to everyone. The seventh reindeer is Donner. His name has been derived from the Dutch word 'donder', which means thunder. Similarly, the eighth reindeer is called Blitzen, after the German word 'Blitz', which refers to lightning.
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Besides the eight reindeer who pull Santa Claus' sleigh, a few other reindeer have also found their way into Christmas folklore. The most famous of these is Rudolph. Robert L. May introduced this reindeer to the public through the departmental store chain Montgomery Ward. He wrote a rhyming story about Rudolph which was published and the book given to the children in the store at Christmas time. It has now evolved into a Christmas carol.
In the story, Rudolph was Donner's son. He was born with a shiny red nose, which made him an anomaly among all the reindeers. One Christmas Eve, it was so foggy that Santa Claus was planning to cancel his gift-giving because he could not see the way to ride the sleigh. Then he spied Rudolph and asked him to use his nose as a beacon. Since then Rudolph is said to light up the way for the sleigh, every Christmas Eve.
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