Do I look like one of Santa’s reindeer? I think I do! Maybe not Rudolf, though, because my nose is the wrong color.
Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer made his appearance in a booklet written in 1939 by Robert L. May for the Montgomery Ward Company. May considered calling his red-nosed deer Rollo or Reginald but settled on Rudolph instead. Montgomery Ward distributed 2.5 million copies of the booklet in its first year of publication. It’s since spawned scores of spin-offs in print, television, movies and song.
May’s brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, was a songwriter who specialized in Christmas songs, among them “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” “A Holly Jolly Christmas” and “Run Rudolph Run.” But his most famous song is the one he adapted from May’s story, “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer.” Singing cowboy Gene Autry’s rendition topped Billboard’s pop-singles chart in 1949 after selling 2.5 million copies. It eventually sold more than 25 million copies. Wow! It was later recorded by Bing Crosby, Spike Jones and his City Slickers, Dean Martin, Alvin and the Chipmunks, The Supremes, Chicago, and Ringo Starr to name a few.
Rudolph made his big-screen debut in a cartoon released in 1944. In 1998, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Movie was released and became an instant Christmas hit. Most everyone has seen the animated TV special, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. It came out in 1964 and has aired nearly every year since. Did you know it was filmed in Japan and the sound recordings were made in Toronto? It’s an international Christmas treat.
In Britain, folks watch a trio of Christmas specials starring Rudolph’s lazy, overweight son, Robbie the Reindeer. Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits wrote most of the music. It’s cool!
But Rudolph isn’t the only famous Christmas reindeer; there are also the reindeer that pull Santa’s sleigh. In 1823, a college professor named Clement C. Moore penned a poem called “A Visit from St. Nicholas” that eventually became known as “The Night Before Christmas.” Of the eight reindeer pulling St. Nick’s sleigh he wrote:
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, Donder and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! To the top of the wall!
Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!
In case you don’t know it, Donder and Blitzen are German names that mean Thunder and Lightning. Nowadays, people tend to spell Donder’s name “Donner.”
Other writers, like L. Frank Baum, who is famous for writing The Wizard of Oz, give Santa’s reindeer different names. In 1902, Baum wrote a story called The Life and Times of Santa Claus in which 10 reindeer pull Santa’s sleigh. Their names are Flossie and Glossie, Racer and Pacer, Fearless and Peerless, Ready and Steady, and Feckless and Speckless.
In a 2002 South Park Christmas special called “Red Sleigh Down,” Santa calls his reindeer Steven, Fluffy, Horace, Chantel, Skippy, Rainbow, Patches and Montel.
Mom thinks the weirdest names for Santa’s reindeer are the ones in Bob Dylan’s Christmas song, “Must Be Santa:” Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Bush and Clinton.
But enough of fictional reindeer. Next week we’ll talk about real, live reindeer and how you can raise them on your farm
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