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The legend of Santa Claus and the nine reindeer

Merry Christmas.

The tradition that Santa Claus, or Father Christmas as he is known in England, traveled through the night in a sleigh pulled by eight reindeer is thought to be a Scandinavian myth.

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We got the ninth reindeer, Rudolf, from the department store, Montgomery Ward. The character first appeared in a 1939 publication by Robert L. May, which was marketed by Montgomery Ward. According to many sources, including a December 25, 2013 story on "Morning Edition," on NPR, the author considered the name 'Reginald' or 'Rollo,' before settling upon the name Rudolf.

"Robert L. May always wanted to write the great American novel. As life would have it, he wound up being a catalog writer at Montgomery Ward in Chicago. The department store used to give away free books to kids each Christmas, and May thought Rudolph would be a great character in one …"

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The song, "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer," was first sung by Gene Autry in 1949. Numerous sources say it was May's brother-in-law, Johnny Marks who wrote the lyrics and melody, that were adapted from the 1939 children's book.

Two "children's books written in the early 1800s [are] credited with introducing the reindeer aspect to the Santa legend," reports an article in The National Geographic News on December 24, 2002.

I sometimes marvel at how much Christmas has changed during my lifetime and at this time of year reminisce about my childhood Christmases. When I was young, the week before Christmas was like an announcement of what was on the way. We went into the woods to cut pine and holly boughs to decorate the house. They were placed over all the pictures throughout the house, in an arrangement on the dining room table and around the manger that always sat on the fireplace mantel.

The first, "The Children's Friend" was published in 1821, according to Laura Wasowicz at the American Antiquarian Society. In 1823, Clement Clarke Moore first published "The Night Before Christmas" in an upstate New York newspaper. In Moore's classic poem, Santa had eight reindeer and they did not fly.

In year's past, as has been reported in this space, a perennial rumor circulates every Christmas that Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer is probably a girl. Perhaps we have all fallen victim of "fake news," led by an insidious conspiracy that has caused us to believe that Rudolph, Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, and Blitzen were all husky and stout males.

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Nevertheless, be aware that the rumor that the reindeer are all female just might be true. More research is needed to determine whether they pass gas and are therefore responsible for global warming, or need to be regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency.

According to numerous media reports in the past, many blame the folks suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) at the "Alaska Department of Fish and Game," for reporting upon the gender of the reindeer. "While both male and female reindeer grow antlers in the summer each year, male reindeer drop their antlers at the beginning of winter. ... Female [pregnant] reindeer retain their antlers until after they give birth in the spring."

So far, I have read no authoritative reports as to whether or not reindeer can really fly. Nevertheless, I really believe they fly. This is supported by Randy Brooks song performed by husband and wife singers Elmo and Patsy in their 1979 classic song that goes, "Grandma got run over by a reindeer, Walking home from our house Christmas eve, You can say there's no such thing as Santa, But as for me and grandpa we believe …"

As far as the reindeer being female, heckfire, we should have known that all along. Santa Claus is a typical male living in a fantasy world. He certainly would not ask for directions and besides, only a pregnant woman would be able to drag a fat man in a red velvet suit all around the world without a GPS, in one night, not get lost, and be back in time to make breakfast.

Happy Hanukkah and Merry Christmas.

Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster. Email him at kevindayhoff@gmail.com.



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