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Santa Claus's reindeer

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A parade float with a model of Santa's reindeer and sleigh, Toronto 2009
Santa Claus with reindeer at Hersheypark, Hershey, Pennsylvania 2021

In traditional festive legend and popular culture, 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 number of reindeer characters, and the names given to them (if any) vary in different versions, but those frequently cited in the United States are the eight listed in Clement Clarke Moore's 1823 poem A Visit from St. Nicholas, the work that is probably responsible for the reindeer becoming popularly known:[1] Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner (variously spelled Dunder and Donder) and Blitzen (variously spelled Blixen and Blixem).[note 1][3][4]

The popularity of Robert L. May's 1939 storybook Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and the 1949 Christmas song "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" has resulted in Rudolph often being included as the ninth character.

Many other variations in reindeer names and number have appeared in fiction, music, film and TV.

Origins and history[edit]

Single reindeer[edit]

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.[5][6] The names of the author and the illustrator are not known.[6] 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.[7] The illustration to the first verse features a sleigh with a sign saying "REWARDS" being pulled by an unnamed single reindeer.

Eight reindeer[edit]

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 modern Christmas lore that includes eight named reindeer.[8]

The eight reindeer, as they appeared in the first publication of Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas in 1823.

The poem was first published in the Sentinel of Troy, New York on 23 December 1823. All eight reindeer were named, the first six being Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet and Cupid, and the final two "Dunder" and "Blixem" (meaning thunder and lightning in colloquial New York Dutch).[9] The relevant part of the poem reads:

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!"

The eight reindeer, as they appeared in a handwritten manuscript of "A Visit From St. Nicholas" by Clement C. Moore from the 1860s.

Moore altered the names of the last two reindeer several times;[9] in an early 1860s version of the poem, written as a gift to a friend, they are named "Donder" and "Blitzen" (with revised punctuation and underlined reindeer names). The relevant part reads:

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!"

As printed in An American Anthology, 1787–1900, 6th impression between 1900 and 1909.

When Edmund Clarence Stedman collected the poem in his An American Anthology, 1787–1900, he also used "Donder" and "Blitzen", italicising the names.[10]

The modern German spelling of "Donner" came into use only in the early twentieth-century, well after Moore's death.[9]

L. Frank Baum's ten reindeer[edit]

L. Frank Baum's story The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus (1902) includes a list of ten reindeer, none of which match those in A Visit from St. Nicholas. Santa's principal reindeer are Flossie and Glossie, and he gathers others named Racer and Pacer, Reckless and Speckless, Fearless and Peerless, and Ready and Steady.[11]

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer[edit]

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.[12]

Appearances in popular media[edit]

Reindeer introduced after Rudolph[edit]

In film[edit]

  • The animated film 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[edit]

  • "Shadrack The Black Reindeer", was recorded by Loretta Lynn for a 1974 Christmas single.[15]
  • Joe Diffie's album Mr. Christmas (1995) features the song "Leroy the Redneck Reindeer", which is about Rudolph's cousin.[16]
  • 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."[17]

In television[edit]

  • 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 South Park Christmas special "Red Sleigh Down" (2002), Santa's sleigh is shot down over Iraq, killing the eight famous reindeer. The protagonists go to rescue him with Santa's backup team: Steven, Fluffy, Horace, Chantel, Skippy, Rainbow, Patches, and Montel.
  • 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.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The names Dunder and Blixem derive from Dutch words for thunder and lightning, respectively, or German for some other spellings.[2]


  1. ^ Moore, Clement C. (2 December 1823). "An Account of A Visit from St. Nicholas". Troy Sentinel. p. 2. Retrieved 12 December 2008.
  2. ^ Emery, David. "Donner, Donder, or Dunder? Santa's Reindeer's Name Explained". Retrieved 14 January 2019.
  3. ^ Jeffers, Harry Paul (2001). Legends of Santa Claus. Minneapolis: Lerner Publications. p. 85. ISBN 9780822549833.
  4. ^ Triefeldt, Laurie (2008). People & Places: A Special Collection. Sanger, CA: Quill Driver Books. p. 77. ISBN 9781884956713.
  5. ^ Bowler, Gerry (2000). The World Encyclopedia of Christmas. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart Ltd. p. 199. ISBN 0-7710-1531-3.
  6. ^ a b Bowler, Gerry (2005). Santa Claus: a biography. McClelland & Stewart Ltd. p. 37. ISBN 978-0-7710-1668-4.
  7. ^ "A New-Year's present, to the little ones from five to twelve". The Children's Friend. Broadway, New York: Gilley, William B. III. 1821.
  8. ^ Siefker, Phyllis (1997). Santa Claus, Last of the Wild Men: The Origins and Evolution of Saint Nicholas, Spanning 50,000 Years. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company. p. 4. ISBN 0-7864-0246-6.
  9. ^ a b c Goodwin, George (2019). Christmas traditions : a celebration of Christmas lore. London: British Library. p. 84. ISBN 978-0-7123-5294-9. OCLC 1120057499.
  10. ^ Stedman, Edmund Clarence (ed.). An American anthology, 1787-1900 (6th ed.). Boston, Houghton, Mifflin and company. p. 15.
  11. ^ Baum, L. Frank (1902). The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus. Indianapolis: The Bowen-Merrill company. p. 160.
  12. ^ Wook Kim (17 December 2012). "Yule Laugh, Yule Cry: 10 Things You Didn't Know About Beloved Holiday Songs (With holiday cheer in the air, TIME takes a closer look at some of the weird stories behind our favorite seasonal tunes)". Time."Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" (p. 3)
  13. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). Christmas in the Charts (1920–2004). Wisconsin: Record Research Inc. ISBN 0-89820-161-6.
  14. ^ "Let's Go Dancing with Santa". YouTube. 15 October 2015. Archived from the original on 21 December 2021. Retrieved 14 January 2019.
  15. ^ "Loretta Lynn - Shadrack the Black Reindeer/Let's Put the Christ Back in Christmas (Vinyl)". Discogs. Retrieved 30 April 2016.
  16. ^ Stephen Thomas Erlewine. "Mr. Christmas - Joe Diffie - Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards - AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved 17 December 2014.
  17. ^ "Tripod - Fabian". YouTube. 27 November 2008. Archived from the original on 21 December 2021. Retrieved 14 January 2019.

Further reading[edit]