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Santa Claus's reindeer

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Santa Claus and seven of his reindeer in a parade in Toronto 2009

In traditional festive legend, Santa Claus's reindeer pull a sleigh through the night sky to help Santa Claus deliver gifts to children on Christmas Eve. The commonly cited names of the eight fictional reindeer are Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donder and Blitzen, although Donder is often called Donner. They are based on those used in the 1823 poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas" (commonly called "The Night Before Christmas") by Clement Clarke Moore, arguably the basis of the reindeers' popularity.[1]


In traditional lore, Santa Claus's sleigh is led by eight reindeer: Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donder (variously spelled Dunder and Donner) and Blitzen (variously spelled Blixen and Blixem).[note 1][3][4] The enduring popularity of the 1949 Christmas song "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" has led to Rudolph often joining the list, bringing the number of Santa Claus's reindeer up to nine.

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]

Eight reindeer[edit]

"A Visit From St. Nicholas", handwritten manuscript by Clement C. Moore

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

The relevant segment of the poem reads:

When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
but a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny rein-deer,
with a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.

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!"

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;

So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,

In An American Anthology, 1787–1900, Edmund Clarence Stedman reprints the 1844 Clement C. Moore version of the poem, including the German spelling of "Donder and Blitzen," rather than the original 1823 version using the Dutch spelling, "Dunder and Blixem".[1] Both phrases translate as "Thunder and Lightning" in English, though German for "thunder" is now spelled Donner, and the Dutch words would now be spelled Donder and Bliksem.

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 the names of the versions found in "A Visit from St. Nicholas". Flossie and Glossie are Santa's principal reindeer in Baum's story. Claus gathers eight more reindeer, named in rhyming pairs: Racer and Pacer, Fearless and Peerless, Ready and Steady, Feckless and Speckless.

By the time The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus was adapted into a television special in 1985, the producers had replaced Baum's ten reindeer with eight unnamed reindeer to make the special compatible with Moore's poem.

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.[9] According to this story, Rudolph's glowing red nose made him a social outcast among the other reindeer. Santa Claus's worldwide flight one year was imperiled by severe fog. Visiting Rudolph's house to deliver his presents, Santa observed Rudolph's glowing red nose in the darkened bedroom and decided to use him as a makeshift lamp to guide his sleigh. Rudolph accepted Santa's request to lead the sleigh for the rest of the night, and he returned home a hero for having helped Santa Claus.

Appearances in popular media[edit]

  • In the 1947 film Miracle on 34th Street, Kris Kringle tells a shop worker that he has made a mistake with his reindeer, namely that he has mixed up Cupid and Blitzen, that Dasher should be on the sleigh drivers right hand side, and that Donner's antlers have got four points instead of three.
  • "Run Rudolph Run" (1958), recorded by Chuck Berry a popular Christmas-rock song about Rudolph.
  • The 1989 film Prancer concerns a young girl who finds an injured reindeer who she realizes is Prancer. She nurses him back to health and returns him to Santa.
  • KC & The Sunshine Band wrote the song Let's Go Dancing With Santa as part of their album A Sunshine Christmas, which featured Santa and his reindeer.[10]
  • The 1994 American Christmas fantasy family comedy-drama film The Santa Clause, and its sequel The Santa Clause 2 both featured reindeer, one of which was called Comet.

Reindeer introduced after Rudolph[edit]

Popular culture has generally recognized Santa Claus as having nine reindeer—Moore's eight, plus Rudolph—since the mid-20th century. Other film, television, literary and musical works have introduced other reindeer that, in part because of intellectual property issues, have not been accepted in popular culture to the extent Rudolph has. In some cases these reindeer never intended to appear more than once, such as to substitute for one of the main reindeer; in others, they serve as relatives, peers or descendants of the nine main reindeer.

In film[edit]

  • 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.
  • The animated movie Annabelle's Wish 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.
  • Chet is a young reindeer-in-training who is introduced in the 2002 feature film The Santa Clause 2 (2002).
  • 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 2011 film Arthur Christmas, 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 2019 film Noelle, 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.[11]
  • Joe Diffie's album Mr. Christmas (1995) features the song "Leroy the Redneck Reindeer".[12]
  • 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."[13]

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.
  • In the TV special Holidaze: The Christmas That Almost Didn't Happen (2006), "Rusty" is said to be Rudolph's younger brother. Unlike the other reindeer, Rusty is flightless, so instead he assists Santa and the other reindeer from air traffic control.
  • 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. ^ a b 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. ^ 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)
  10. ^ "Let's Go Dancing with Santa". YouTube. 15 October 2015. Retrieved 14 January 2019.
  11. ^ "Loretta Lynn - Shadrack the Black Reindeer/Let's Put the Christ Back in Christmas (Vinyl)". Discogs. Retrieved 30 April 2016.
  12. ^ Stephen Thomas Erlewine. "Mr. Christmas - Joe Diffie - Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards - AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved 17 December 2014.
  13. ^ "Tripod - Fabian". YouTube. 27 November 2008. Retrieved 14 January 2019.

Further reading[edit]