Are there Reindeer on the Roof yet? We all know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen. We know Comet and Cupid and Donner and Blitzen. And, yeah, we know Rudolph.
But Just How Well do we Know Those Reindeer on the Roof?
The roots of Santa’s mystical flying chauffeurs date back nearly two centuries to a poem that first appeared in Upstate New York. Their names have evolved, as have some of their attributes.
Here's a Brief History of Santa's Eight Reindeer (and dozens of others):
The 1823 poem “A Visit from Saint Nicholas” first introduced the concept of the modern-day Santa and his reindeer. Today, the poem is better known as “Twas the Night Before Christmas.”
Originally appearing anonymously in the Troy Sentinel — Troy, N.Y.; It referred to a “miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer.”
“A Visit” became the basis for much of modern Christmas lore, and its details about St. Nick and his reindeer would go on to be the subjects of countless songs, riddles, jokes and stories.
And...The Most Famous Reindeer of All
The total number of standard reindeer grew to nine more than a century later when the most famous reindeer of all joined the fray. Rudolph was first introduced in 1939 in a children’s book by Robert L. May. The red-nosed reindeer was canonized in the famous 1949 song by Gene Autry and again in a self-titled stop motion animation film in 1964.
The Lack of Translation Skill...Dunder and Blixem!
The names of most of the reindeer have remained unchanged from the original 1823 poem, with the exception of those last two: Dunder and Blixem. The change in subsequent years to Donner and Blitzen has become the cause of an authorship controversy over the anonymous poem.
American poet and Clement C. Moore first took credit for the poem. In 1836, a reprint of the poem cited him as the author. Some scholars, however, now believe a Dutch New Yorker named Henry Livingston wrote the poem. Here’s why: Moore reprinted the poem in an 1844 collection of works, in which he altered the last two reindeer names to Donder and Blitzen from the original Dunder and Blixem.
Thunder and Lightening
“Dunder and Blixem” is a Dutch expression that means “thunder and lightning.” While Livingston spoke Dutch, Moore spoke German. The 1844 reprint changes “Blixem” to “Blitzen.” The latter is the German word for lightning, while the former is Dutch.
The change of “Dunder” to “Donder” was likely an error that Moore failed to notice when he reprinted the poem (since he didn’t speak Dutch). Eventually, “Donder” became “Donner,” the German word for thunder.
All the Other Reindeer...
The eight original reindeer and Rudolph have become the accepted sleigh-pulling team for Mr. Claus. But popular culture is littered with additional reindeer. Here are a few more:
From the Wizard of Oz to Presidents...
L. Frank Baum’s reindeer— The “Wizard of Oz” author named ten reindeer of his own in his 1902 children’s book, “The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus.” Their names: Flossie and Glossie, Racer and Pacer, Fearless and Peerless, Ready and Steady, Feckless and Speckless.
Bob Dylan’s presidential reindeer — In a 2009 rendition of “Must Be Santa,” Dylan rattles off eight presidents amid his listing of reindeer: Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Bush and Clinton.
Then Along Came Ray Stevens and Southpark...Putting even More Reindeer on the Roof
Ray Stevens’ bumpkin reindeer — In his 1962 comedy-country jingle, “Santa Clause is Watching You,” Stevens names his troupe of bumpkin reindeer, in addition to the original eight: Bruce, Marvin, Leon, Cletus, George, Bill, Slick, Do-right, Fred, Ace, Clyde, Blackie, Queenie, Prince, Spot, and Rover.
The ‘South Park’ backup squad — In the 2002 episode, “Red Sleigh Down,” Santa’s sleigh is shot down with a rocket-propelled grenade, and his reindeer are killed. That prompts the arrival of his backup squad: Steven and Fluffy and Horace and Chantel, Skippy and Rainbow and Patches and Montel.
Lastly, Olive and Max
Olive — In 1997, Vivian Walsh and J. Otto Seibold brought to life Olive, The Other Reindeer, in a children’s book. Taken from an oft misheard lyric from “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” All of (Olive)the other Reindeer… The silliness of the story was enough to prompt “The Simpsons” creator Matt Groening and others to make the 1999 animated film “Olive, the Other Reindeer.”
Max — In the Dr. Seuss classic, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” the title character straps an antler and a red nose on his dog Max during his late-night caper into Whoville.
Written By: Jane Laker
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