Main Members: Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen
First Named In: “A Visit From St. Nicholas” by Clement C. Moore (1823)
Most Famous Of All: Rudolph
First Mentioned In: “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” by Robert L. May (1939)
One of the first of many things that are often associated with the man in red are his reindeer with one being the most famous of all. While I will get to that celebrity shortly allow me a brief moment to speak of the first eight reindeer on Santa’s team.
Strictly speaking, while there had been reindeer that lead Santa’s sleigh on Christmas Eve it wasn’t until the year 1823 that there were named in the poem “A Visit From St. Nicholas” or as it’s more commonly recognized, “The Night Before Christmas.” However, did you know that two of Santa’s reindeer had different names in the original text? Those reindeer being Donner and Blitzen who are originally named as Dunder and Blixem respectively and are so named based on the Germanic words for thunder and lightning.
With that in mind, if one were to take a second glance at the names of Santa’s original team of reindeer, one would notice that they all possess names that are a reference to their speed or agility. Yes, even Vixen and Cupid. In the case of Cupid, one can assume that he is so named after the spirit of Saint Valentine’s, one whom is said to traverse the world at great speeds to spread love and romance into the hearts of men and women, the young and the old. As for Vixen, it is a name that is commonly attributed to pretty ladies yes but to one species of female in particular.
Given the date of the original poem and popularity of the sport of fox hunting at the time, it can be assumed that “Vixen” is not so much attributed to the reindeer’s gender but rather that reindeer’s craftiness in eluding possible pursuers.
Of the eight original reindeer, no actually leader of the herd was named in the original poem though the same can’t be said of the many various media that followed in its wake. Blitzen has often been named the leader of the herd the most often, and has even had the esteemed honor of being named the father to one Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, but as to why that is so I couldn’t begin to guess. It may be because his is the first name on the list of reindeer when put in alphabetical order, it might be because his is the last name exclaimed by jolly old Saint Nick, or simple luck of the draw.
Before I move on to the most famous reindeer of all, allow me a moment to bring to light something that a lot of people misinterpret though not to the same degree as holly and mistletoe. Reindeer are not like the deer seen in such films as Disney’s Bambi or even in the Rankin/Bass Productions of Rudolph and other such films. In point of fact, those kinds of deer that often attributed as being Santa’s reindeer are the white-tailed deer, which are residents of North & South America. The actual reindeer are more commonly recognized under the name of caribou and are far more… buff I suppose is as good a word as any in comparison to the white tail deer but no less majestic.
On to the most famous reindeer of all… Rudolph gained his notoriety not in the original song sung by Gene Autry but in a book that came out ten years prior to the song’s recording. More specifically, a coloring book, which had been created by a now defunct Montgomery Ward company as a means of saving money by creating an original Christmas story rather than getting the rights/permissions of another.
The animated short film created by Max Fleischer was then released in 1944 before the song made its debut in 1949. The far more popularized Rankin/Bass Production of Rudolph premiered in 1964 and has been televised every year since. Rudolph is quite easily the most recognized of Santa’s reindeer and he has every right to be. His is a story of how one can be labeled as a misfit but that doesn’t make them a nitwit.
Wrapping up this entry, while Rudolph has been featured primarily in his titular song, alongside the equally as popular “Run Rudolph Run,” and Santa’s other reindeer have been named in those songs and in a number of poems… There has yet to be a film or story that is strictly about them as a whole. Oh yes, there are many that speak of the origins of how Santa attained his reindeer and their gift of flight, which range from only on Christmas Eve to every day, but there has yet to be anything that captures the entirety of the herd rather than a few choice members.
Yet… there is one song in particular that I feel best captures Santa’s reindeer as a whole. A song that is in actuality a parody of a battle song but the original singer/writer was kind enough to sing it anew. Entitled as “December of Cambreadth” the song still echoes its original self in that it entails the battle of the reindeer trying to deliver toys across the world over. It may not be a signature song for Christmas or the holiday season as a whole but I like it all the same.