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Fri Dec 22, 2017, 09:25 AM

FSogol's Advent Calendar Day 22: Origin of Santa's Reindeer

The character of Santa Claus is largely based on St. Nicholas of Myra and Sinterklaas of Dutch lore. Both of those figures traveled via a noble, white steed. Yet in some Western cultures, particularly America, Santa Claus travels the world on Christmas Eve delivering gifts in a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer.

I've you've been reading all of my Christmas posts, I mentioned before that in Norse mythology, Odin travels the entire world by night on his 8-legged horse, Sleipnir. Kids would leave treats for the stead in hopes that Odin would bless the household with good fortune and/or gifts. Odin's son Thor traveled by a chariot pulled by 2 flying goats.

In 1812, American author Washington Irving refers to St. Nicholas as "— riding over the tops of the trees, in that self-same wagon wherein he brings his yearly presents to children" in the revised version of A Complete History of New York written under the pseudonym Diedrich Knickerbocker. Yet no mention is made of what propels the wagon. So where did the story of flying reindeer originate?

The first known written account of reindeer in association with the legend of Santa Claus occurred in 1821. That year, New York printer William Gilley published a sixteen page booklet titled A New Year's Present, to the Little Ones from Five to Twelve Number III : The Children's Friend by an anonymous author. In the book, reindeer are introduced into the Santa Claus narrative:
Old Santeclaus with much delight
His reindeer drives this frosty night.
O'er chimneytops, and tracks of snow,
To bring his yearly gifts to you.

When interviewed about his mention of flying reindeer, the author claimed to have not invented it, but was merely repeating the tale. He claimed that native people in Arctic lands believed that reindeer could fly. I myself have spent much time in both the arctic and mountainous areas and understand how such a myth could get started. If you have ever seen a deer make a really long leap, they tuck their legs under them and propel up. In the poor light and snow conditions in the arctic, whiteouts are quite frequent. Any deer leaping away from hunters could go up and completely disappear. hence, you get flying reindeer. The Sámi people, commonly known as Laplanders, domesticated reindeer and used them for pulling sleighs and sleds.

n 1823, the Troy Sentinel published the poem A Visit From St. Nicholas, commonly known as The Night Before Christmas. The poem features eight flying reindeer pulling Santa's sleigh and, for the first time, they are identified by name:

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.

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, Dunder and Blixem!
To the top of the porch, to the top of the wall!
Now, dash away, dash away, dash away all!"

(The Night before Christmas is in the public domain and not bound by DU copyright rules)
You read that correctly, Dunder and Blixem were changed to Donder in Blitzen in later versions. Donder was then changed to Donner. Dunder and Blixem mean thunder and lightning in Dutch.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, popularly known as "Santa's ninth reindeer," is a fabled reindeer created by Robert Lewis May. Rudolph is usually depicted as the lead reindeer pulling Santa's sleigh on Christmas Eve, though he is a young buck who has only adolescent antlers and a glowing red nose. Though he receives scrutiny for it, the luminosity of his nose is so great that it illuminates the team's path through harsh winter weather. Rudolph first appeared in a 1939 booklet written by Robert L. May and published by Montgomery Ward, the department store

Robert L. May created Rudolph in 1939 as an assignment for Chicago-based Montgomery Ward. The retailer had been buying and giving away coloring books for Christmas every year and it was decided that creating their own book would save money. May considered naming the reindeer "Rollo" or "Reginald" before deciding upon using the name "Rudolph."

While May was pondering how best to craft a Christmas story about a reindeer, while staring out his office window in downtown Chicago, a thick fog from Lake Michigan blocked his view — giving him a flash of inspiration. “Suddenly I had it!" he recalled. "A nose! A bright red nose that would shine through fog like a spotlight.”

The cultural significance of a red nose has changed since the story's publication. In 1930's popular culture, a bright red nose was closely associated with chronic alcoholism and drunkards, so the story idea was initially rejected. May asked his illustrator friend at Montgomery Ward, Denver Gillen, to draw "cute reindeer," using zoo deer as models. The alert, bouncy character Gillen developed convinced management to support the idea.

Montgomery Wards gave away 2.4 million of their Rudolph book the first year.

So how did Santa, flying reindeer and leftover Norse mythology make its way to America? Dutch and German immigrants brought these stories and traditions.


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Response to FSogol (Original post)

Fri Dec 22, 2017, 09:46 AM

1. Great info! Thanks!

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Response to Docreed2003 (Reply #1)

Fri Dec 22, 2017, 10:19 AM

2. Anytime. Glad you enjoyed it. n/t

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