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How Did Reindeer Become a Symbol of Christmas?

Everyone knows Christmas is officially here once they see jolly Santa Claus guiding his group of reindeer from his sleigh. From books to movies, this is a clear and vivid picture of how Santa Claus delivers the gifts. The question is; why such unusual and specific animal? If you go back to when Saint Nicholas first appeared, there was no mention of any of this. So when and why did this come into play?

When the first modern images of Santa began to come out, there was very little mentioned on how he traveled. It was noted from the Washington Irving works that Santa would use a flying wagon, but it never mentioned what would carry it from home to home. It would take until 1821 for everyone to have a better idea of how Santa Claus would travel on Christmas Eve. A poem called "A New Year's Present" mentioned Santa having reindeer that would drive him over the chimneys and through the white fluffy snow. This began to craft that vivid Santa and reindeer picture we're all used to.

Not long after, one of the most well known Christmas poems was published; "The Night Before Christmas". To this day, this poem is an iconic piece during Christmas, and it recognizes the original eight reindeer. While the majority of people could name all eight, two of them actually had their name changed from when the poem was released. The last two reindeer were originally Dunder and Blixem, Dutch words meaning Thunder and Lightning. This was shifted in later printings to the German words, Donder and Blitzen. Now, we all know that Donder's name is simply Donner.

Yes, we relate reindeer with Santa and his sleigh, but they have also become one of the most popular Christmas decorations too. A simple story has turned into a tradition for years to come.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

As mentioned above, Santa's reindeer date back to the 1800's making them quite popular. However, there's one reindeer that everyone can't get enough of and that's Rudolph. Despite being the newest member of Santa's reindeer crew, you see Rudolph the Red-Nosed reindeer appear in different movies and books every year. The now-famous reindeer didn't exist for almost a century after the original eight reindeers were put together. Due to a marketing effort, Rudolph has become an iconic Christmas figure.

In 1939, Montgomery Ward appointed an employee, Robert May, to create a coloring book for a Christmas giveaway. He drew on his memories of what it was like being shy, short, and awkward in his youth, in doing so came up with the story of the misfit reindeer. The story he wrote was created in rhyming verse using his daughter as a sounding board and critic of kids' enjoyment.

When May went to pitch his idea to his supervisors, they questioned his work at first. After showing sketched pictures of reindeer from a trip to a local zoo and the imagery that could be incorporated with it, his supervisors approved. It turned out to be a huge success as you could imagine. Between two printings, one in 1939 and one in 1946, it distributed six million copies. May was eventually given the rights to his work as an employee of Montgomery Ward.

No one can go through the holidays without hearing "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer". It turned out that May's brother in law was a songwriter giving him the opportunity to see if he could turn this into a song. While it is a success now, at first, no artist would sing it. They didn't want to compete with traditional Christmas songs on the radio. It was country artist Gene Autry who recorded the first version, which also made it one of the best selling songs of all time.

Rudolph has also been the star of his own animated movie that airs every Christmas season. While we may not remember the name of the other eight reindeer, we all know Rudolph the Red-Nosed reindeer!