From the 1949 classic “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (bet you sung that in your mind), you most likely know the names of Santa’s reindeer, or at least some of them. But where did they come from, and are there eight or ten of them?
The origin of Santa’s reindeer
The “eight small reindeer” were mentioned in the 1823 poem “A Visit from Saint Nicholas,” often known as “Twas the Night Before Christmas” by Clement Clarke Moore:
“Dasher, immediately!” Dance now! Prancer and Vixen next!
Comet, come! It’s Cupid! On Blixem and Donder!
Children in the erstwhile New Amsterdam began referring to Santa as “Sante Klaas” in the late eighteenth century. “Sinter Niklaas” is a Dutch name for St. Nicholas that still serves as the foundation for his name today. Donder and Blitzen are both Dutch names derived from the expression “donder en bliksem,” which translates to “thunder and lightning.” In nineteenth-century New York, the expression was a mild kind of profanity; nevertheless, it was also amended in 1844. Blixem was renamed to Blitzen by Moore because it rhymed more well with Vixen. Marks also altered “Donder” to “Donner” in the song “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” although it’s unclear whether he did it because the word sounded better or because he was aware that it was German.
We can infer that Santa’s other reindeer had names that rhymed and suited the iambic meter in order to give them distinctive titles to yell as they took off on his sleigh. For instance, Dasher and Dancer are metered and alliterative names that adhere to the custom of naming animals after characteristics. This is questionable because it’s also thought that the Norse thunder deity Thor served as inspiration, particularly because in mythology, he drove a wagon pulled by his two goats, Gnasher and Cracker, over the heavens.
However, the text makes no reference to Rudolph by name. Where did the most well-known reindeer originate? Actually, Rudolph doesn’t make an appearance in historical documents till the 20th century. Although Johnny Marks’ Rudolph song’s lyrics were inspired by the classic “Twas the Night Before Christmas,” the character’s real design was created by the Montgomery Ward marketing department in 1939. Robert May, an advertising executive for a Chicago department shop, used the moniker Rudolph for the first time to promote the holidays in a fairytale. Not until ten years later was this name turned into the popular song.
How many reindeer are there?
Up until Rudolph entered the picture in 1939, Santa had a total of 8 reindeer. But over time, poetic ambiguity led to the addition of a tenth name to Santa’s flock. Olive, “The Other Reindeer,” was inspired by a misinterpretation of the song’s lyrics about Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Some people mistook “Olive, the other reindeer” for “All of the other reindeer,” and as a result, a new reindeer persona was created.