Let’s Look at the Traditions
As per the traditional festive legends in a few regions of the world, the reindeer of Santa Claus is known for pulling a sleigh all across the night sky for helping Santa deliver gifts to kids on the eve of Christmas. The most commonly used names of these nine reindeer are Rudolph, Blitzen, Donner, Cupid, Comet, Vixen, Prancer, Dancer, and Dasher. However, Donner is sometimes referred to as Blitzen and Donder and sometimes as Blixem. Clement Clarke Moore’s poem ‘A Visit from St. Nicholas’, commonly known as ‘The Night Before Christmas’, is responsible for making the reindeer so popular.
Since the mid-twentieth century, it has been generally recognized by the pop culture as Santa Claus having nine reindeer. It includes Moore’s eight along with Rudolph. The first eight reindeer of Santa are based on the ones referred to in this poem of 1823. The Christmas song ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’ gained immense popularity in 1949 and led to the reindeer joining the list and making the number up to nine.
A Single Reindeer
The first reference of Santa’s sleigh getting pulled by one reindeer makes its appearance in a children’s poem “Old Santeclaus with Much Delight”, published in 1821 in New York. The names of the illustrator and author are still not known. William B. Gilley published the poem with eight coloured lithographic illustrations in a small paperback book called The Children’s Friend: A New-Year’s Present, to the Little Ones from Five to Twelve. The first verse illustrates a sleigh with a sign that reads “Rewards” and being pulled by a reindeer.
Moore’s poem is primarily credited for the modern Christmas lore, which includes eight names of reindeer. In 1787-1900’s American Anthology, Edmund Clarence Stedman reprinted the 1844 version of the poem. He included the German spellings of ‘Blitzen’ and ‘Donder going for the original 1823 version that used the Dutch spelling ‘Blixem’ and ‘Dunder’. Both phrases translate to “Lightning and Thunder” in English, although the German for ‘thunder’ is now spelt as ‘Donner’, and the Dutch words are spelt as ‘Bliksem’ and ‘Donner.
Ten Reindeer of L. Frank Baum
Written by L. Frank Baum, the story ‘The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus’ came out in 1902. It mentions the names of ten reindeer, out of which none matches the names or versions we find in ‘A Visit from St. Nicholas’. Glossie and Flossie are the principal reindeer of Santa in Baum’s tale. Claus brings together eight more reindeer, and they are named in rhyming pairs: Feckless and Speckless, Ready and Steady, Fearless and Peerless, and Racer and Pacer. After the story got adapted in a TV special in 1985, TV producers replaced the ten reindeer of Baum with eight unnamed reindeer for making the TV special more compatible with the poem by Moore.
Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Robert L. May originally wrote the story of Rudolph in 1939. It was for the Montgomery Ward, a chain of departmental stores. The story got published as a book for giving to kids in the store during Christmas time. As per this story, Rudolph has a glowing red nose which made him the odd one out. It led to him being a social outcast amidst all the other reindeer. One year, a severe fog imperilled the flight of Santa Claus. When Santa visited Rudolph’s house for delivering gifts, he noticed Rudolph’s red nose glowing in the dark bedroom. He decided on using him as a makeshift lamp for guiding his sleigh.
Santa’s request was accepted by Rudolph and led his sleigh for the remainder of the night. He came back home a hero who helped Santa Claus. From the middle of the twentieth century, Rudolph has been generally recognized by pop culture as the ninth reindeer of Santa Claus. It is a fictional character usually shown as the youngest and the ninth reindeer of Santa Claus. In the story, although he initially received ridicule because of his unusual red nose, it was the nose’s brightness that was so powerful that it illuminated the reindeer team’s path in the harsh winters.
The story was described by Ronald D. Lankford, Jr. as “the fantasy story made to order for American children: each child needs to express and receive approval for his or her individuality and/or special qualities. Rudolph’s story embodies the American Dream for the child, written largely because of the cultural significance of Christmas.”
Adaptations of the Story
The Rudolph Company, LP owns the story, and it has been shaped and adapted in various forms. This includes the traditionally animated feature film in 1998, a CGI sequel from the house of GoodTimes Entertainment in 2001, a famous song by Johny Marks, and the iconic stop-motion animated TV special in 1964, along with its two sequels from the Rankin/Bass Productions. Rudolph Company, LP’s licensing is managed by Character Arts, LLC. In numerous countries, Rudolph has turned into a figure of Christmas folklore. The 75th anniversary of the fictional character, along with the 50th anniversary of the TV special brought by Rankin/Bass, was in 2014.
On the 6th of November, 2014, the United States Postal Service issued a beautiful series of postal stamps featuring Rudolph. The tale chronicles Rudolph’s experiences. It is the story of a young male reindeer (buck) with a unique luminous red nose. Excluded and mocked by his peers due to this feature, Rudolph goes on to prove himself during one Christmas Eve. When Santa cannot deliver his gifts due to poor visibility because of inclement weather, he catches sight of the reindeer’s nose and asks him to lead the sleigh for one evening. Rudolph accepts the request and is ultimately favoured by other reindeer for his accomplishment and heroism.
The original book by Robert L. May does not name the parents of Rudolph. However, the animated television special that both GoodTimes Entertainment and Rankin/Bass came up with named his parents’ different pairs. The holiday special by Rankin/Bass named Rudolph’s mother, a tan doe, Mrs Donner, and his father, Donner. On the other hand, GoodTimes Entertainment’s retelling called Rudolph’s father Blitzen while his mother was named Mitzi.
However, some people claim that the birth mother of Rudolph should be Vixen. Now, let’s talk about the offsprings of Rudolph. In three BBC adaptations of the story, we see the narrative carrying on the legend by introducing Robbie, the Reindeer. He is shown as Rudolph’s son. However, there are no direct mentions of Rudolph’s name. References have been replaced by Blitzen, the villain of the first and second films, interrupt with a phrase similar to “Don’t say that name!”. It was presumably because of copyright reasons.
Does Rudolph have Siblings?
In 2006’s Holidaze: The Christmas That Almost Didn’t Happen, an American special, Rudolph is shown having a young brother named Rusty Reindeer. Like in the cartoons of Robbie the Reindeer, we don’t see Rudolph’s name or physical appearance coming up in the special. However, Rudolph does appear in one scene in the movie where toys and a cardboard cutout of Rudolph are shown. He is also visible on a poster. Unlike the previous adaptations of Rudolph, the character in the special possesses a black nose that turns red only when lit up.
In the comic strip series ‘Over the Hedge’, T. Lewis and Michael Fry have given another brother to Rudolph. As Rudolph’s older brother, Ralph is an emotionally damaged and overweight reindeer with an infra-red nose. He uses his nose to defrost Santa Claus’ sleigh and also to warm up waffles and toast. Quite often, we see Ralph enviously complaining of his younger brother Rudolph’s publicity and his anonymity. (See Why Are Red and Green Traditional Christmas Colors?)
Other Relatives of Rudolph
You must be wondering if Rudolph had any cousins, uncles or aunts. In Joe Diffie’s song ‘Leroy the Redneck Reindeer which came out in 1995, we are introduced to Rudolph’s cousin, Leroy. The song tells us Leroy’s story of joining the sleigh team as a substitute for Rudolph when he fell sick. In the retelling by GoodTimes Entertainment, Santa’s three reindeer, namely Cupid, Comet, and Dasher, are depicted as Rudolph’s uncles. Arrow, the son of Cupid, is not only Rudolph’s cousin but also his rival.