Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Christmas Firsts #5 : Reindeer

In Australia, the idea of six white boomers (kangaroos) pulling Santa’s sleigh is popular, but reindeer have always been associated with Christmas and Santa Claus. Or have they? When did reindeer FIRST become part of the Christmas story? 

It was 1822 when reindeer were first featured in a poem “A Visit from St Nicholas” by Clement Moor. We know this poem, published in 1823, by its more common title, “The Night Before Christmas” where eight reindeer with superpowers fly across the sky, pulling Santa’s sleigh full of gifts for good children. The reindeer are even mentioned by name…

When what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.

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, Dunder and Blixem!
To the top of the porch, to the top of the wall!
Now, dash away, dash away, dash away all!"

Of course the idea of reindeer pulling a heavy sleigh was not totally fanciful. In Scandanavia, especially in the northern parts of Lapland, reindeer had already earned the reputation of being mysterious creatures of the Sami people. Reindeer populations increased and were domesticated by the 18th century becoming very useful for transport in wintry climates.

Eight seems a good number, but who's that in stall number 9?  And do you recall the “most famous reindeer of all”? It took 100 + years for the first mention of Rudolph (who by the way was almost called Reginald or Rollo) . A Chicago department store, Montgomery Ward for many years had been commissioning special Christmas edition colouring books to give away to customers’ children. For the first time in 1939, the store management gave the job to one of its own employees Robert L May. May had experienced a difficult time as a shy small child himself and drawing from inspiration from the story “The Ugly Duckling” not only created Rudolph the red nosed reindeer but also told the story to raise Rudolph to hero status. Needless to say, the Christmas booklet was very popular.
 In 1947, his employers finally granted  the author the copyright to the booklet, and he published it commercially. A year later saw the release of a song adapted from the book by Robert May’s brother-in-law and then in 1949, Gene Autry of cowboy fame recorded the song. With two million copies sold in the first year, as they say, the rest is history. Reindeers are firmly established as part of the Christmas tradition and Rudolph’s name has certainly gone down in history. When did you first hear the Rudolph the red nosed Reindeer Christmas song? I remember it being played at home when I was a child on an LP ( Long Play vinyl record)    .. now that is going "back". 

Sources of information: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Santa_Claus%27s_reindeer



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