How Father Christmas Found his Reindeer

 It took a long time for Rudolph and the other reindeer to work together with Santa Claus. But once they did it, there was no stopping them

When I was a kid, I could never imagine Santa Claus without reindeer. They were as much a part of his character as his bushy white beard, his red coat, or his sack of gifts. After all, how else would he get there if they weren't there to pull his sleigh? Before going to bed on Christmas Eve, I would take care to leave a carrot for Rudolph – and the next morning, I would swear blind that I heard the sound of hooves on the roof before I went to sleep. I had not the slightest doubt how recently Santa had arrived on his reindeer – or how much his nighttime sleigh rides were due to religious reform, migration and cultural exchange.

Saint Nick

Originally, Santa Claus had nothing to do with reindeer – or Christmas. Their story begins with St. Nicholas, the fourth-century bishop of Myra in modern Turkey. Although little is known about his life, the few hagiographic works that have come down to us testify to his love for children and his generosity. According to Michael the Archimandrite, he once told of a man who had lost all his money and was unable to provide dowries for his three daughters. Since this would prevent them from marrying, they might have to become prostitutes to support themselves. Naturally, St. Nicholas was eager to help, but did not want to embarrass them by openly giving alms. To avoid this, he reached their house quietly late at night and threw the gold purse from the window. When his astonished father learned of this the next morning, he immediately looked for a husband for the eldest. The next night, St. Nicholas did the same thing again. However, on the third night, the father remained awake and caught St. Nicholas in the act. Falling on his knees, he honored the saint as the savior of his family, only for Saint Nicholas to raise him to his feet and beg him not to tell anyone about the blessing he had received.

Because of such acts of generosity, the Feast of Saint Nicholas (6 December) later came to be celebrated with the exchange of gifts. It is said that in the 12th century, nuns in France left fruits, nuts and sweets outside the homes of poor children. Around the same date, Saint Nicholas was also transformed into a magical figure bringing gifts. Especially in Dutch-speaking areas, 'Sinterklaas' would sneak into poor people's homes at night and leave some coins or some gifts in their shoes.

For obvious reasons, he was depicted as a bishop in long, brightly colored robes, with a miter and a beard. It is also said about him that he used to travel in the sky and had the amazing ability to remain invisible. At times, Saint Nicholas was also associated with certain animals. In the Netherlands there was a tradition of leaving hay for his horses, in parts of Germany he still rides a horse, in eastern France he keeps his gifts in baskets pulled by a donkey and in Italy he is often accompanied by a cheerful donkey. It happens.

But there was no sign of deer – and with good reason. Although they were once common throughout Europe, their habitat declined at the end of the last Ice Age to the extent that they were confined mostly to northern Scandinavia and the Ural Mountains. Apart from a few brief references in Aristotle, Theophrastus, Julius Caesar, and Pliny, there is little written testimony before 1533, when Gustav I of Sweden sent a gift of ten deer to Albert I of Prussia – and precisely to link them to the Fourth. There is nothing either. -Centennial Bishop from Asia Minor.


The Reformation changed everything. Because of Martin Luther's insistence that Jesus Christ was the only mediator between God and man, most early Protestants rejected the Catholic pantheon of saints. Although they were happy to recognize that people who had lived unusually holy lives should be held up as examples of Christian virtues, they refused to believe that anyone could intercede with God on another's behalf. And considered the worship of saints as idol worship. Any form of worship or celebration that seemed to point toward the human rather than the divine was therefore discouraged, if not actively prohibited.

This created trouble for St. Nicholas. Although he was seen as sufficiently virtuous to warrant inclusion in the Lutheran religious calendar, the glee with which his feast was traditionally celebrated was certainly questionable. No doubt the easiest thing would have been to ban it, but Luther was smart enough to realize that gift-giving had become such a central part of the holiday season that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to eliminate. To overcome this problem, Luther moved the practice to Christmas Day itself and, instead, focused on Jesus Christ, God's original gift to mankind. Although this did not stop people from celebrating the day in style, it meant that, from then on, gifts would not be brought by St Nicholas, but by the 'Christkind' or 'Christkindl' ('Christ-child'). Usually depicted as a brightly colored infant with wings and a halo.


For many years, Saint Nicholas and 'Father Christmas' existed as separate traditions. However in some areas, such as Alsace and parts of the Netherlands, where Catholics and Protestants lived close to each other, each person had a definite role in festive celebrations and confessional divisions generally ensured that they remained separate. stay tuned.

However, by the end of the 18th century, the two merged due to demographic changes on the other side of the world. After the War of Independence, the United States experienced a dramatic increase in immigration. Most of the new arrivals came from Britain, Germany and the Netherlands – and most were either Protestant or Nonconformist. It is estimated that by 1780 more than a quarter of New York's population had origins in the Low Countries, while New Jersey, Delaware, and Pennsylvania had sizable German-speaking minorities. The influx slowed slightly after 1790, largely due to the disruption of the Napoleonic Wars, but by the 1830s immigration had begun to increase again. Irish Catholics arrived in large numbers over the next two decades.

At first, different immigrant groups celebrated Christmas in their own ways. While some of the more staunch nonconformists tended to stay away from extreme 'pagan' celebrations, others – particularly the Dutch in New York – indulged in wild revelry with lots of drunken revelry and sexual crime. More importantly, while the tradition of gift giving was preserved, there was no person who brought gifts for children – and there was a lack of clarity on when he came.

But in the melting pot of the early United States, Christmas traditions inevitably mixed together. Customs and personalities gradually converged and long-separated ideas were recombined. Although much of this may be unconscious, it may have been encouraged by efforts to curb the excesses of some communities. First, the Dutch 'Sinterklaas' was 'translated' into English to give the name 'Santa Claus'. It first appeared in a report in the New York Gazette on 26 December 1773. Then, after a few decades, Santa Claus became identified with the English 'Christmas spirit' and his association with the noisy hobbies of the Dutch community was dismissed. Celebration. Sometimes, it is true, he still used one of his old names or a broken-down version of the European analogue (Kris Kringle for Christkindl, for example), but, in his own way and manner, he Now he was recognized as close to Santa. Know today.

Enter Rudolph

Soon the number of deer started increasing. On December 23, 1823, the poem 'A Visit from St. Nicholas' (also known as 'The Night Before Christmas') appeared in the New York Sentinel. Later attributed to Clement Charles Moore, it describes a chubby, albeit small, Saint Nicholas who leads eight 'little reindeer' named Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Dunder and Blixem. ' Was roaming in the sky on a sled pulled by. Later, two more were added. In L. Frank Baum's story, The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus (1902), Santa's companions were arranged into five pairs: Racer and Pacer, Fearless and Peerless, Flossy and Gauzy, Ready and Steady, and Feckless and Speckless. .

Around this time, Santa Claus was re-exported to Europe, where he gradually merged into the figures whose characteristics were given to him. He also took his deer with him. But Rudolph did not join their troupe until much later. In 1939, Montgomery Ward Department Stores acquired Robert L. May to write a storybook that could be given to children visiting their branches during Christmas. In the May story, Rudolph was shunned by another reindeer because of his bright red nose. But one year, when fog threatens the delivery of Christmas gifts, Santa sees him shining in the darkness and asks him to light the way as the ninth member of the troupe. Although initially intended as a local gift, May's story proved so popular that it later inspired a cartoon (1948), a song (1949) – and no end of films and books.

Since then, Santa's reindeer have been reimagined countless times. They have been renamed, shortened, extended and changed in almost every way. But now it is impossible to think of Santa without him. And if you listen carefully this Christmas Eve, you might even hear them on your rooftop.

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