When one thinks of Christmas, a few symbolic images immediately come to mind: twinkling lights, decorated trees, beautifully wrapped gifts, Santa Claus, and of course, his faithful reindeer. While all these elements together make up the festive Christmas tableau we know and love, in this blog, we delve into the fascinating world of reindeer, the iconic creatures synonymous with Christmas.
Reindeer, or caribou as they’re known in North America, are found in cold climates such as Scandinavia, Russia, Canada, and Alaska. These hardy creatures are perfectly adapted to survive in frigid environments, thanks to their dense fur and wide, cloven hooves that work well on both snowy landscapes and slick ice.
The connection between reindeer and Christmas dates back to the 1820s, specifically tied to the poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” more commonly known as “The Night Before Christmas.” Penned by Clement Clarke Moore, this poem was the first to introduce reindeer as Santa’s preferred mode of transportation, listing eight reindeer that pull Santa’s sleigh. With their names ranging from the familiar – Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, and Blitzen – these reindeer have since captured the imaginations of children and adults alike.
The most famous reindeer of all, Rudolph, did not appear until more than a century later, in 1939. Rudolph was created by Robert L. May, a copywriter for the Montgomery Ward department store, as a promotional holiday character. With his shiny red nose that guides Santa’s sleigh on foggy Christmas Eves, Rudolph quickly became a beloved figure and is now as much a part of Christmas lore as Santa himself.
In many cultures, particularly in Scandinavia and other Arctic regions, reindeer have a significance beyond their Christmas symbolism. The indigenous Sámi people, for example, have relied on reindeer for centuries for transportation, food, clothing, and materials for shelter. Even today, many Sámi people herd reindeer, maintaining this important cultural and economic tradition.
For many of us, the image of Santa’s reindeer pulling the laden sleigh against a starlit Christmas Eve sky is the quintessential representation of holiday magic and wonder. Whether in storybooks, songs, decorations, or animated specials, reindeer serve as steadfast reminders of the joy and anticipation that the festive season brings.
From their origins in the icy wilderness to their central role in our holiday celebrations, reindeer truly embody the spirit of Christmas. They symbolize the ability to endure, the joy of the season, and the wonder of magical flight on a frosty Christmas Eve. So, this Christmas, as you hear the distant jingle of bells or look up to the starry sky, spare a thought for the reindeer – the steadfast symbols of Christmas, and keepers of holiday magic.