Santa Claus's reindeer

Legendary sleigh-pulling flying reindeer

A parade float with a model of Santa's reindeer and sleigh in the Toronto Santa Claus Parade, 2009

In traditional festive legend and popular culture, Santa Claus's reindeer are said to pull a sleigh through the night sky to help Santa Claus deliver gifts to children on Christmas Eve.

The number of reindeer characters, and the names given to them (if any) vary in different versions, but those frequently cited in the United States and Canada are the eight listed in Clement Clarke Moore's 1823 poem A Visit from St. Nicholas, the work that is largely responsible for the reindeer becoming popularly known.[1] In the original poem, the names of the reindeer are given as Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Dunder and Blixem.[note 1][3][4]

The popularity of Robert L. May's 1939 storybook Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and Gene Autry's 1949 Christmas song "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer", resulted in Rudolph often being included as the ninth character.

Many other variations in reindeer names and number have appeared in fiction, music, film and TV.

Origins and history

Single reindeer

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] The illustration to the first verse features a sleigh with a sign saying "REWARDS" being pulled by an unnamed single reindeer.

Eight reindeer

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

The eight reindeer, as they appeared in the first publication of Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas in 1823.

The poem was first published in the Sentinel of Troy, New York, on 23 December 1823. All eight reindeer were named, the first six being Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet and Cupid, and the final two "Dunder" and "Blixem" (meaning "thunder" and "lightning")[9] The relevant part of the poem reads:

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!"

The eight reindeer, as they appeared in a handwritten manuscript of A Visit from St. Nicholas by Clement C. Moore from the 1860s.

Moore altered the names of the last two reindeer several times;[9] in an early 1860s version of the poem, written as a gift to a friend, they are named "Donder" and "Blitzen" (with revised punctuation and underlined reindeer names). Donder is Standard Dutch for "thunder", while Blitzen is derived from Standard Dutch bliksem, "lightning", influenced by German Blitz, and also helps it to rhyme with "Vixen".[10] The relevant part reads:

More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called 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!"

As printed in An American Anthology, 1787–1900, 6th impression between 1900 and 1909.

When Edmund Clarence Stedman collected the poem in his An American Anthology, 1787–1900, he also used "Donder" and "Blitzen", italicising the names.[11]

The modern German spelling of "Donner" came into use only in the early 20th century, well after Moore's death.[9]

L. Frank Baum's ten reindeer

L. Frank Baum's story The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus (1902) includes a list of ten reindeer, none of which match those in A Visit from St. Nicholas. Santa's principal reindeer are Flossie and Glossie, and he gathers others named Racer and Pacer, Reckless and Speckless, Fearless and Peerless, and Ready and Steady.[12]

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Rudolph's story was originally written in verse by Robert L. May for the Montgomery Ward chain of department stores in 1939, and it was published as a book to be given to children in the store at Christmas time.[13]

Appearances in popular media

See also


  1. ^ The names Dunder and Blixem derive from Dutch words for thunder and lightning, respectively. The German spellings "Donner" and "Blitzen" are now used.[2]


  1. ^ 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?". ThoughtCo. Archived from the original on 14 October 2017. Retrieved 30 December 2022.
  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. III. Broadway, New York: Gilley, William B. 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. ^ a b c Goodwin, George (2019). Christmas traditions : a celebration of Christmas lore. London: British Library. p. 84. ISBN 978-0-7123-5294-9. OCLC 1120057499.
  10. ^ "Donner or Donder". 23 December 2014.
  11. ^ Stedman, Edmund Clarence (ed.). An American anthology, 1787-1900 (6th ed.). Boston, Houghton, Mifflin and company. p. 15.
  12. ^ Baum, L. Frank (1902). The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus. Indianapolis: The Bowen-Merrill company. p. 160.
  13. ^ 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)
  14. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). Christmas in the Charts (1920–2004). Wisconsin: Record Research Inc. ISBN 0-89820-161-6.
  15. ^ "Let's Go Dancing with Santa". YouTube. 15 October 2015. Archived from the original on 21 December 2021. Retrieved 14 January 2019.

Further reading

  • Puckett, Catherine; Landis, Ben (15 December 2014). "The Other 364 Days of the Year: The Real Lives of Wild Reindeer Categories: Biology and Ecosystems". U.S. Geological Survey. Archived from the original on 26 November 2015. Retrieved 24 December 2014.

External links

  • Media related to Santa Claus' reindeer at Wikimedia Commons
  • v
  • t
  • e
  • Blue Christmas
  • Boxing Day
  • Children's Day
  • Christmas Eve
  • Saint Nicholas Day
  • St. Stephen's Day
  • Sol Invictus
  • Yule
In folklore
Companions of
Saint Nicholas
TraditionsBy countryMusicOther mediaIn
societyFood and
Meat and fish
  • Category
  • v
  • t
  • e
Film and television