• In 1821, a children’s poem written by an unknown author was published in booklet form in New York City just in time for Christmas. The poem was called “Old Santeclaus with Much Delight” and the illustrations depicted Santa on a sleigh being pulled by a single reindeer, leaving toys for good girls and boys and whips for the bad ones. This was history’s first mention of reindeer being connected to Santa. No one knows who wrote the poem or what the inspiration was for Santa’s single reindeer. Though Washington Irving had previously written about Santa flying through the air, he never mentioned reindeer as the means of propulsion.
• In 1822, Clement Moore wrote a poem called “A Visit from St. Nickolas” more commonly known as “Twas the Night Before Christmas.” The poem, published in the local newspaper, was widely republished and quickly became a holiday favorite. Moore was the first to mention eight reindeer, naming them Dasher, Dancer, and Prancer, which are self-explanatory; Vixen, meaning a female fox, known to be fleet of foot; Comet, for a celestial object speeding through space; Cupid for the Roman god of love; and Donner and Blitzen, which are German spellings of the Dutch words “Dunder and Blixem” meaning thunder and lightning.
• L. Frank Baum, who wrote “The Wizard of Oz,” also penned “The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus” in 1902 in which he names ten reindeer: Flossie and Glossie, Racer and Pacer, Reckless and Speckless, Fearless and Peerless, and Ready and Steady. That story never gained the popularity of Moore’s poem.
• In 1939 the president of the Montgomery Ward department store asked his advertising copywriter to design a free gift that the hired Santas could hand out to the children who came to sit on Santa’s lap.
• The president of Montgomery Ward wanted a Santa souvenir that would be plastered with the department store name. Robert May was the advertising executive who got this job. He decided to create an illustrated booklet that kids would keep; something that parents would read to them every single Christmas. With the aid of artist Denver Gillen, May invented a new Christmas character named Rollo. The store officials liked the idea and the poem, but nixed the name Rollo. So it became Reginald. They didn’t like that name either. Then May’s daughter suggested a new name, which was unanimously approved. The name they finally agreed on was Rudolph.
• That year, 2.4 million copies of the booklet were handed out across the country. In 1947 a friend of May’s named Johnny Marks put the poem to music and tried to get famous singers to perform it. No one was interested in the song. Finally, Gene Autry agreed to do the song in 1949. It went straight to the top of the Hit Parade. Since then, over 300 different recordings have been made, with 80 million copies sold. The song is second only to “White Christmas” as the best-selling Christmas record of all time. Burl Ives even made a movie about it in 1964. It’s one of the first holiday songs children learn. • The word “reindeer” comes from the Norse “hreinin” meaning “horned animal” plus “dyr” meaning “deer.” In other countries, the same species is called caribou, from a Native term meaning “one who paws” referring to the way they paw through snow to reach edible moss and lichen on the ground. Reindeer are the only members of the deer family where both male and female have antlers. However, male reindeer drop their antlers in the fall, while females retain them until the following spring when they give birth. Therefore, all of Santa’s reindeer, which are consistently depicted sporting antlers, are female.