Christmas Eve is a magical time when little children, far too excited to sleep, lie awake for a long time (rather too long for tired parents perhaps) hoping to hear the sound of a sleigh landing on their roof or in their garden where they may have put out some refreshments for their eagerly anticipated visitors to enjoy. Perhaps a glass of milk, a mug of cocoa, or even something a little stronger for the stout man in red, and some nice juicy carrots for his reindeer. But the question is – how many reindeer does Father Christmas have? It would be terrible if there weren’t enough carrots for them all to have one each.
According to “A Visit from St Nicholas” there are in fact eight reindeer, each of which has a name. They are all listed in order in this poem as…Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen.
The names of the first six haven’t changed at all since the poem was first published anonymously in 1823. But Donner and Blitzen are newer additions. Their names are the German for thunder and lightning. Originally however, Donner was Dunder and Blitzen was Blixem – these are in fact the Dutch words for thunder and lightning. A later version of the poem published in 1837 changed the reindeer’s names to Donder and Blixen – which changed again at some later point to their current forms of Donner and Blitzen.
Rudolph is a much later addition to the team and is famous for his red nose that glows so brightly to enable Father Christmas to see his way in the dark. He was actually created by Robert L May who was an advertising copywriter and first appeared in a colouring book called Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer in America in 1939. He went on to become the star of a song, more books and a film.
It is not known how his fellow reindeer view this latecomer’s celebrity status as, rather like the Queen, they never give interviews!