Molly Fisk: Reindeer

An e-mail has been circulating recently, suggesting Santa’s reindeer are female, because male reindeer shed their antlers in the fall, and females don’t shed theirs until April. This is supposedly why Santa makes it to everyone’s house in one night: female reindeer aren’t afraid to ask for directions.

Like many other urban, or in this case arctic legends, the story is plausible but not incontrovertible. Female reindeer do shed their antlers in spring — so Santa’s could be female. But most males don’t shed until early December, and the younger ones are often later. Santa’s team could be teenaged males, or late-shedding adult males, or even coed. I don’t know why anyone would name a male reindeer Vixen, and Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Comet, Cupid, Donner, and Blitzen all seem fairly unisex to me. These monikers come from the poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” now universally known by its first line: “Twas the night before Christmas,” written by Clement Clarke Moore in 1822. Rudolph is the only clearly male name, and that was invented as a Montgomery Ward promotional gimmick in 1939.

I love Christmas — even though I’m single and regret not having my own nuclear family to enjoy it with — even though this year my cats are still young enough to take down in minutes any tree that I might be foolhardy enough to put up. I love Christmas lights, glittery decorations, tinsel, eggnog, wrapping paper and ribbon, and the smell of pine, balsam, and fir. I love standing around a piano with my friends to sing carols, even the most ridiculous of them, like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

Real reindeer live wild in Canada and Alaska. They’ve been domesticated in Eurasia for about 7000 years, which is longer than the horse. They live almost exclusively above the Arctic Circle — not at the North Pole but in Norway, Sweden, Finland, and the Kola Peninsula of Russia — herded by the still-nomadic Lapps, a.k.a. Sami. Their hooves are large for their body size, working a little like snowshoes, and the edges act as blades to facilitate walking on ice. The shovel-like design also helps with swimming and foraging for lichen.

Here is my reindeer story. I once ventured to Lapland in June. Leaning over the railing of the boat I’d been traveling on for a week, at about three in the morning — in other words, broad daylight — I saw a log jam up ahead, followed by two dinghies. As the boat got closer, the logs looked more like a huge tangle of branches… closer still they turned out to be antlers. Below them was a froth of white from thousands of hooves churning the water. Lapps, in their traditional blue costumes with all the rick-rack, waved and shouted from the dinghies, motoring back and forth, herding their reindeer across from the mainland to summer pasture.

Have yourself a merry little Christmas, and remember to keep your eye out for miracles. Male or female. Reindeer or otherwise. They’re everywhere.

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  • jan hersh December 17, 2016 at 5:58 pm

    You always amaze, Molly
    Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

    • Diane Dettmann December 20, 2016 at 9:26 am

      Molly, thanks for this fascinating article about reindeer. Wish Montgomery Ward would have named the bright-nosed reindeer Ruby. 🙂 Have a wonderful Christmas and a rewarding 2017!

      • Molly Fisk December 24, 2016 at 2:08 pm

        Ruby would have been far classier! All best to you in the upcoming year. I’m looking around for small miracles. <3

    • Molly Fisk December 24, 2016 at 2:08 pm

      And to you, Jan!! xox

  • WendL in Manhattan December 17, 2016 at 5:13 pm

    I was in Lapland in June once, too, and I’m very envious we didn’t get to see what you did.
    Wishing you a wonderful Christmas and a low-stress 2017. Thank you for being one of the bright lights we enjoy year-round!

    • Molly Fisk December 24, 2016 at 2:07 pm

      Oh, I’m so sorry you didn’t see this, too, Wendl! Happy Xmas and many adventures in the new year.

  • Molly Fisk December 17, 2016 at 1:19 pm

    Thank you, Shirley! And a very happy Christmas to you, too. xox

  • Shirley December 17, 2016 at 8:34 am

    Molly, Hope you have as delightful a Christmas as you give us readers every week! I eagerly look forward to reading your post every Saturday. 🙂