Prepare yourselves for a Christmas bombshell guys
The most famous of all reindeer ever, the dude with the shiny red nose (how did he come by that schnoz, I wonder) is NOT WHO HE SEEMS. There’ve been rumours – confirmed just this week – that Rudolph has been masquerading all these years under a false identity. For Rudolph is not Rudolph.
I’ll whisper the dreadful truth: –
Shh, don’t tell the kids, but Rudolph… is… really… Rudolpha!
Kids aside, the hard facts must be faced – none of Santa’s dancing, prancing sleigh team are boys – it’s a physical impossibility.
This little video explains all.
By the time of the autumn rut, the male reindeer have grown magnificent antlers in preparation for the battle to bag themselves mating rights. But after they’ve clashed antlers, and done all the rest that’s required of them, they’re left flagging, energy low, having burned up nearly all of their body fat. Certainly not up to the challenge of pulling a gift-heavy sleigh from the North Pole all the way around the world and back again.
Not only that, but by the early days of December those impressive antlers will already have been shed into the snow. So by the time Christmas Eve comes round male strength is sapped, and heads are bare. How is that going to look on the Christmas cards.
Step up the girls: Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen. Unlike the boys, and still sporting their headgear – because yes, out of the entire deer family, reindeer females alone have antler equality with the males – they are Christmas-ready, fit and raring to go.
The first sighting of the girls in the night sky was celebrated in verse almost 200 years ago, in 1823
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 Donner and Blitzen!”
(A Visit from St Nicholas by Clement C. Moore)
Rudolph(a) on the other hand, is a bit of a johnny/jeannie-come-lately. For more than a century Santa successfully negotiated the chimneys of the world with his regular team of eight. But in the thick pea-souper that blanketed the earth on the Christmas Eve of 1939, Dasher, Dancer, Prancer and the rest refused to come out of their stalls. They said to embark on the flight in such conditions would be madness. There were muttering about Health and Safety regulations, and even, unthinkably, about cancelling Christmas altogether.
But for that fateful fog, Rudolph(a) may never have got her big break. Suddenly, the luminous red snooter that all her life had brought her nothing but ridicule, now became a uniquely invaluable asset, indispensable to light Santa on his worldwide way.
Why exactly she adopted the alter ego of Rudolph is anyone’s guess. But the rest as they say, is history. It will take more than some smarty-pants biologist telling us male reindeer shed their antlers well before Christmas to dislodge Rudolph – the hero celebrated in song, the saviour of the Christmas stocking, Santa’s main ‘man’, from his/her unassailable place in children’s dreams of Christmas.
But now might be a good time to tweak the traditions a little. Real life reindeer (known as caribou in N. America) are remarkable animals, and have their own complex lives in the wild which definitely don’t involve pulling sleighs for us, or even for Santa. And the ‘rein’ in reindeer doesn’t mean, as we might have supposed, that that is their purpose in life. It actually has nothing to do with reins, but comes from Old Norse hreinn meaning ‘horned’. More reindeer/caribou facts:-
- They are smaller than you think, standing at only 1.2m at the shoulder
- They have clowns’ feet – wide spreading hooves that make perfect snowshoes, shovels to shift snow (to get at the food beneath) and paddles for swimming
- It’s true they do have unusual noses – not normally red! – because they are furry. In fact their special insulating hollow fur covers every bit of a reindeer’s body from furry nose to furry feet, except of course their eyes
- They talk to each other with their feet. When the herd is moving, “they make a delicate clicking or popping sound. Being surrounded by a small herd sounds a bit like being in a bowl of puffed rice as the milk is poured on to it”
- They are long distance runners, travelling the furthest of any land mammal in the world, up to 5,000 km a year
- They can run at up to 80 kmh
- Surprisingly there are two herds numbering several thousand at the South Pole – well, almost. The animals were introduced to South Georgia a century ago and are still flourishing
- But, once widespread in the northern states of the US, they are now the country’s most endangered mammal with barely a dozen remaining
- In Canada, caribou populations have fallen by as much as 90%
- Reindeer are also found in Scandinavia and Russia where their populations are estimated to have fallen by 60% in the last three decades
Main threats to these beautiful creatures are the usual suspects: human-caused habitat loss and disturbance by industrial development. And now, human-caused climate change.
And considering how wonderfully adapted are these gentle, quiet and sensitive animals to conditions in the Arctic, it is heartless and inhumane to bring them into hot, noisy crowded shopping malls and festive fairs for Christmas ‘entertainment’. So much better left in kids’ imagination at the North Pole with Santa.*
Hmm, it looks like Santa may have been hiding a secret too. Nowadays, he sails through the night sky on a Tesla electric sleigh. Don’t worry, Rudolph(a), Dasher, Dancer, Prancer and Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen are still there alongside the man in red as he chimney-hops around the world on Christmas Eve. But for reindeer heavy sleigh-pulling is so last century. In 2017 the famous nine will be dancing across the wild blue yonder – just because they want to, just for fun.
PS Santa wants it to be known that he still loves his mince pies. Just make sure you leave him vegan ones
* Find out more: Why Putting Live Reindeer and Other Animals on Display Is Inhumane
If you live in Canada, please sign this petition to protect caribou habitat