Girl power alert: science says Santa’s reindeer are female.
The Origins of Santa’s Reindeer
“Old Santeclaus with Much Delight” was a poem published in 1821. The author, though anonymous, was the first to mention and illustrate Santa’s reindeer and sleigh:
“Old Santeclaus with much delight
His reindeer drives this frosty night,
O’er chimney tops, and tracts of snow,
To bring his yearly gifts to you.”
Though this poem only speaks of one reindeer, it likely inspired Clement Clarke Moore to write his iconic piece “A Visit From St. Nicholas,” published two years later, in which he named the eight reindeer we know of today: Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Dunder, and Blixem. The relationship between Santa and his reindeer, however, traces back to one of the oldest indigenous cultures in Northern Europe, and Siberia.
Back in the North Pole
In the Arctic Circle, reindeer have long played a vital role in the life of the Samì tribe, and other indigenous nations throughout the region. Furthermore, it has been suggested that some of these cultures had a mushroom-eating shaman that resembled our modern-day Santa Claus and delivered Amanita muscaria mushrooms to villagers on a reindeer sleigh. In the 19th century, an Alaskan missionary named Sheldon Jackson first brought reindeer over to the United States from Siberia to Alaska.
The Inuit people were, in the mid-1800s, suffering from starvation. Jackson thought the reindeer could provide a solution to the problem. This resulted, after lobbying to the United States government, in the migration of Sami herders and reindeer to Alaska. When the project became successful, a businessman named Carl Lomen saw the commercial potential for reindeer meat and fur. Then in 1926, Lomen and Macy’s Department Store put them on the big stage–a Christmas parade–that featured Santa driving a sleigh of real life-reindeer.
Eight-Legged Steed = Eight Reindeer?
It has also been suggested that the origins of Santa’s reindeer, being that there are eight of them, trace back to Norse mythology. This has more to do with the Santa story as it relates to the winter solstice. Odin, known as “Father Yule,” is a white-bearded god that rides an eight-legged steed – Sleipnir. This has been interpreted by the psychedelically-inclined to correlate with the eight reindeer of Santa. It’s important to note however that mythologically speaking, numbers vary in meaning from culture to culture. Regardless of the origins of Santa’s reindeer, they are iconic symbols in our contemporary culture and the manpower behind Santa’s enterprise. However, the masculine-driven strength that has long been associated with the flying reindeer is misdirected.
The Flying Nine
Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, and Blitzen are Santa’s special transportation group that ensures presents are delivered on time. The youngest, Rudolph the Red-Nosed reindeer, was added to the team in 1939 to lead the pack through the darkness with his bright red nose. Not only do they carry the weight of Santa but billions of presents. If we can say one thing for certain about the Flying Nine, they are the strongest of the reindeer species.
The Flying Nine have always been considered male. After years of lugging all that baggage, Santa’s reindeer finally had it. After years of doing the work without any credit, masquerading as something they are not, they decided to finally come forward with their true identity. Entrusting a mortal woman to tell the world, she stepped forward, on Twitter, to reveal that all of Santa’s reindeer are female. Science swept in to back them up.
“Excuse Me – We’re Not Reindeer, We’re Reindoe”
Santa’s reindeer have antlers which means they cannot be male. “But males have antlers,” you say. This is true. Reindeer and caribou are the only deer species that produce antlers across age and gender. Male reindeer shed their antlers at the end of mating season–around the beginning of December. The ladies, however, keep their cranium accessories throughout the winter season. In other words, Santa’s reindeer were never men, are not men.
The real muscle behind Santa’s sleigh, therefore, is girl power. In light of the activism this past year, the timing could not be more perfect. Finally, the conditions are right for the reindoes to step forward proud and united. To quote Beyoncé’s anthem–”Who Run the World?”–Strong enough to bear the children, then get back to business.
Why did it take that long to figure out? The world might not have been ready to see the truth. It just goes to show us just how unfixed reality is. With all the recent feminist activism, our reality is shifting, and our stories with it.