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Santa Claus's reindeer facts for kids

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Santa Claus Parade Toronto 2009 (2)
A parade float with a model of Santa's reindeer and sleigh, along with an actor portraying Santa, in a parade in Toronto in 2009

In traditional festive legend, Santa Claus's reindeer are said to pull a sleigh through the night sky to help Santa Claus deliver gifts to children on Christmas Eve. The commonly cited names of the nine reindeer are Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donder, Blitzen, and Rudolph, although Donder is sometimes called Donner.

The first eight reindeer are based on those used in the 1823 poem A Visit from St. Nicholas (commonly called The Night Before Christmas) by Clement Clarke Moore. This poem is probably responsible for the reindeer becoming popularly known.

Origins and history

In traditional lore, Santa Claus's sleigh is led by eight reindeer: Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donder (variously spelled Dunder and Donner) and Blitzen (variously spelled Blixen and Blixem). The enduring popularity of the 1949 Christmas song "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" has led to Rudolph often joining the list, bringing the number of Santa Claus's reindeer up to nine.

Single reindeer

The Children's friend. Number III. A New-Year's present, to the little ones from five to twelve. Part III (1821), page 1
Illustration to the first verse of "Old Santeclaus with Much Delight", 1821

The first reference to Santa's sleigh being pulled by a reindeer appears in "Old Santeclaus with Much Delight", an 1821 illustrated children's poem published in New York. The names of the author and the illustrator are not known. The poem, with eight colored lithographic illustrations, was published by William B. Gilley as a small paperback book entitled The Children's Friend: A New-Year's Present, to the Little Ones from Five to Twelve. The illustration to the first verse features a sleigh with a sign saying "REWARDS" being pulled by a single reindeer.

Eight reindeer

A Visit From St. Nicholas, by Clement C Moore
"A Visit From St. Nicholas", handwritten manuscript by Clement C. Moore

The 1823 poem by Clement C. Moore "A Visit from St. Nicholas" (also known as "'Twas the Night Before Christmas") is largely credited for the contemporary Christmas lore that includes eight named reindeer.

The relevant segment 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 An American Anthology, 1787–1900, Edmund Clarence Stedman reprints the 1844 Clement C. Moore version of the poem, including the German spelling of "Donder and Blitzen," rather than the original 1823 version using the Dutch spelling, "Dunder and Blixem". Both phrases translate as "Thunder and Lightning" in English, though German for "thunder" is now spelled Donner, and the Dutch words would now be spelled Donder and Bliksem.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Rudolph's story was originally written in verse by Robert L. May for the Montgomery Ward chain of department stores in 1939, and published as a book to be given to children in the store at Christmas time. According to this story, Rudolph's glowing red nose made him a social outcast among the other reindeer. Santa Claus's worldwide flight one year was imperiled by severe fog. Visiting Rudolph's house to deliver his presents, Santa observed Rudolph's glowing red nose in the darkened bedroom and decided to use him as a makeshift lamp to guide his sleigh. Rudolph accepted Santa's request to lead the sleigh for the rest of the night, and he returned home a hero for having helped Santa Claus. Since the mid-20th century, popular culture has generally recognized Rudolph as Santa's ninth reindeer.

Appearances in popular media

  • In Miracle on 34th Street (1947), Kris Kringle tells a shop worker that he has made a mistake with his reindeer, namely that he has mixed up Cupid and Blitzen, that Dasher should be on the sleigh drivers right hand side, and that Donner's antlers have got four points instead of three. Later, all eight reindeer are named on Mr. Kringle's employment card as "next of kin."
  • "Run Rudolph Run" (1958), recorded by Chuck Berry a popular Christmas-rock song about Rudolph.
  • Prancer (1989) concerns a young girl who finds an injured reindeer who she realizes is Prancer. She nurses him back to health and returns him to Santa.
  • KC & The Sunshine Band wrote the song Let's Go Dancing With Santa as part of their album A Sunshine Christmas, which featured Santa and his reindeer.
  • The American Christmas fantasy family comedy-drama film The Santa Clause (1994), and its sequel The Santa Clause 2 (2002), both featured reindeer, one of which was called Comet.

Reindeer introduced after Rudolph

Popular culture has generally recognized Santa Claus as having nine reindeer—Moore's eight, plus Rudolph—since the mid-20th century. Other film, television, literary and musical works have introduced other reindeer that, in part because of intellectual property issues, have not been accepted in popular culture to the extent Rudolph has. In some cases these reindeer never intended to appear more than once, such as to substitute for one of the main reindeer; in others, they serve as relatives, peers or descendants of the nine main reindeer.

In film

  • The animated movie Annabelle's Wish (1997) tells the story of Annabelle, a young calf who dreams to fly after meeting Santa and his reindeer. Many years later in her old age she is granted her wish and is transformed into a reindeer herself as she leads Santa's team.
  • The feature film Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Movie (1998) introduces Mitzi as Rudolph's mother and Blitzen's wife (as opposed to the Rankin/Bass version, wherein Donner is Rudolph's father and his mother is unnamed). It also features two other reindeer: Rudolph's love interest Zoey and his cousin and rival Arrow, the latter of whom is Cupid's son.
  • Chet is a young reindeer-in-training who is introduced in the 2002 feature film The Santa Clause 2.
  • In the film Blizzard (2003), the title character is Blitzen's daughter. The film also includes Delphi, Blitzen's mate and Blizzard's mother.
  • In the film Arthur Christmas (2011), Arthur and his grandfather Grandsanta use a team of reindeer who are the great-great-grandchildren of the original eight to pull Grandsanta's old sleigh.
  • In the film Noelle (2019), the protagonist gets help from her "personal" reindeer, a white calf named Snowcone.

In music

  • "Shadrack The Black Reindeer", was recorded by Loretta Lynn for a 1974 Christmas single.
  • Joe Diffie's album Mr. Christmas (1995) features the song "Leroy the Redneck Reindeer".
  • Australian trio Tripod wrote the song "Fabian" for their album Fegh Maha (2004) about an arrogant and self-serving reindeer. The song begins with a list of the reindeer: "You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen, Comet and Cupid and ... Chopper and Nixon."

In television

  • The stop-motion animated TV special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964) features Fireball, son of Blitzen, as one of several reindeer trying out for the sleigh team. Another reindeer is said to be the son of Dasher and struggles at flying, along with two other reindeer fawns of the same age. A young fawn named Clarice is also featured and eventually becomes Rudolph's love interest. Donner is portrayed as Rudolph's father, while his mother is left unnamed.
    • A stop-motion animated sequel, Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July (1979), features an additional antagonist reindeer named Scratcher, who was originally planned to lead Santa's team before Rudolph was chosen.
  • In the animated television special Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966), the Grinch disguises his dog Max as a reindeer.
  • Lightning, from the Sesame Street Christmas special, Elmo Saves Christmas (1996), is a reindeer-in-training.
  • Olive, the Other Reindeer was the protagonist of a 1997 book and a 1999 TV Christmas special produced by Matt Groening. The name is a pun from the line all of the other reindeer.. from the Rudolph song.
  • In the TV special Robbie the Reindeer (1999), the eponymous Robbie is ostensibly assumed to be the son of Rudolph. His special feature is his nose, which has supernatural powers that allow him to jump and fly farther and faster than most reindeer.
  • The TV series, My Friends Tigger & Pooh, introduced a special Super Sleuth Christmas Movie (2007) that included Vixen's husband Frost and daughter Holly.
  • The television special, The Flight Before Christmas (2008), features Niko, a wild reindeer whose mother Oona claims he was fathered by one of Santa's team. After a falling out with his herd, he runs away to try to meet his father, learning to fly in the process. His father turns out to be Prancer. A sequel titled Little Brother, Big Trouble: A Christmas Adventure was released and featured Niko gaining a stepbrother named Jonni, after Oona marries a reindeer named Lenni.
  • Thrasher is a top-secret, oversized reindeer introduced in the Disney TV special Prep & Landing (2009). He leads the titular "prep and landing" team of elves in a sleigh ahead of Santa Claus' main sleigh and is Dasher's second cousin.
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