Santa’s Sleigh Fact or Myth
We all know that Santa Claus delivers presents to the girls and boys of the world driving his very special Santa’s Sleigh pulled by nine reindeer, including and led by the most famous reindeer of all, Rudolph with his bright red nose to lead the way. We also know that despite our fantastic modern inventions, Santa’s Sleigh and the flying reindeer are the most efficient and wonderful way to deliver his packages year after year. At Show-Me Reindeer, we raise, train and care for reindeer so that when Santa needs them they are ready to pull Santa’s Sleigh through the skies bringing joy wherever they go.
What is Santa’s Sleigh?
Santa’s Sleigh has been depicted in about every shape, size and form throughout the story telling years. Most often Santa hitches the reindeer to a Cutter Sleigh.
Many don’t realize before automobiles, sleighs were common and a requirement for winter travel.
Sleigh styles varied depending on their use. Like cars, one could buy a simple economic sleigh or one that had all the bells and whistles on it. Cutter Sleighs are sleek, light, picturesque sleighs drawn usually by only one horse or eight reindeer for flying purposes. These sleighs are built for speed with their aerodynamic styling and were sometimes called speeding sleighs. There are two different designs of a Cutter Sleigh: Albany and Portland.
Albany cutters like the one we use for our display at Show-Me Reindeer, LLC. can weigh as little as 50 pounds. The seat on the cutter is usually around 30-32 inches wide, able to hold one Santa or two people trimmer in stature. Today, Show- Me Reindeer, LLC. likes to call our Albany cutter sleigh our “Children’s Sleigh” providing a picture perfect opportunity for parents to be able to take photos of their children in it in front of our reindeer at our events.
We also have two Portland Cutter Sleighs we are in the process of restoring back to their old glory. The Portland style is square-bodied, with a curved dash attached to the upward sweep of the runners. The design is attributed to Peter Kimball, a wheelwright and carriage builder in Maine.
Why Reindeer Pull Santa’s Sleigh?
Reindeer pull Santa’s Sleigh because they are magical, majestic animals capable of amazing feats.
There are many facts, myths, traditions, and lore which support and explain the flying reindeer. Here are a few things to consider:
- While there are many flying animals that could help Santa pull the sleigh, Reindeer have the advantage that they are already well adapted to extreme cold because they live in Arctic regions. This allows them to fly very high and take advantage of the thinner atmosphere to go quickly.
- The reindeer are well equipped for cold and stormy weather. Reindeer have two layers of fur – one coat of dense wool and another above it with hollow hairs for added insulation.
- Their noses help keep the reindeer warm. The especially large surface area of their nostrils warms up the frigid air with their body heat before it reaches their lungs.
- Reindeer have experience in pulling the toboggans on the Sami people of Scandinavia.
- Better than snow chains, reindeer have adaptable hooves. Summertime means soft and wet tundra, and their footpads become like sponges to help them get traction. Deep in the winter though, these pads shrink and become hard, making appropriate sleigh-landing gear in snowy conditions. With a sharp hoof edge, they can cut into ice and crusted snow, which they do while digging for lichen and for scraping ice off chimneys.
- Reindeer can work through the night or day. In the Arctic, it is dark, nighttime, for two whole months in the winter and then in the summer, it is daylight for two months. The reindeer have adapted to these conditions and are able to work for the two months of the year it’s dark and two months it is light.
- Reindeer can see better than Santa himself. Researchers have discovered that reindeer can see light at a higher frequency than humans. This helps them see contrasts in the mostly white and low-light environment. Just the animal to lead the way in the middle of the night to deliver presents.
- Reindeer have stamina. Some reindeer populations in North America walk more than 3,000 miles a year on what is the longest migration for any land-based mammal. Not only that, but they are fast- which could come in handy during sleigh take-offs.
Are Flying Reindeer Real?
The Arctic people have stories and lore woven into their traditions and way of life that include all kinds of flying reindeer. Reindeer flying from one place to another and making what would seem like impossible journeys is very common in the stories passed from one generation to the next.
There are pictures carved into stones that date to
over 3000 years ago depicting Flying Reindeer.
Some say that the reindeer can fly because they eat magic mushrooms – they are a favorite food of the Reindeer. The legend says that after eating the magic mushrooms the reindeer can fly.
Our first modern printed reference to Flying Reindeer pulling Santa’s Sleigh appeared in 1821. A small story was submitted to Mr. William B. Gilley who was a printer in New York. Mr. Gilley published this book with it’s illustrations, entitled A New-Year’s Present , To The Little Ones From Five to Twelve. The Beineke Library at Yale University has been kind enough to allow us to use their images.
This image in 1821, page 1 of the book, is the first drawing known to show Santa, called Santeclause, in Santa’s Sleigh being pulled by a Flying Reindeer.
Mr. Gilley did not write the verse, the author is now unknown, but Mr. Gilley did mention in an interview with Orville L. Holley, New York’s Troy Sentinel editor the following:
The idea of Santeclaus was not mine nor was the idea of a reindeer. The author of the tale but submitted the piece, with little added information. However, it should be noted that he did mention the reindeer in a subsequent correspondence. He stated that far in the north near the Arctic lands a series of animals exist, these hooves and antlered animals resemble the reindeer and are feared and honored by those around, as you see he claims to have heard they could fly from his mother. His mother being an Indian of the area.”
When you consider that the author of the tale that first presented Santeclause in Santa’s Sleigh with a flying reindeer, is the son of the Arctic people, it makes perfect sense. The very special flying reindeer have been around – in lore and depicted on the Reindeer Stones for over 3000 years. Why should we doubt their existence after all this time?
Download a copy of the book here: A New-Year’s Present , To The Little Ones From Five to Twelve
How many reindeer pull Santa’s Sleigh?
“Now! Dasher, now! Dancer, now! Prancer, and Vixen, On! Comet, On! Cupid, on! Dunder and Blixem”.
The short answer is eight reindeer pull Santa’s Sleigh, but if the weather is bad, there are nine reindeer. We cannot forget about Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and the huge difference he makes pulling Santa’s Sleigh through snow, rain, and sleet!
Millions of people know Clement Clarke Moore’s poem “The Night Before Christmas,” written in New York in 1822 and describes in detail Santa’s Sleigh, a reindeer-driven sleigh, pulled by eight flying reindeer. Most of what we know today about Santa and the modern traditions we celebrate have been traced back to this verse.
Moore’s depiction of Christmas and Santa Claus owes much to the traditions of the New York Dutch- “Dunder and Blixem!” means Thunder and Lightning! which was a popular expletive among the Dutch- American inhabitants of late 18th and early 19th century New York. In his 1844 version, he changed Dunder to Donder which was the proper Dutch spelling and still had the meaning “thunder”. Donner didn’t come about till the jingle “Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer” thought it flowed better replacing the “d” with an additional “n”. “Blitzen” on the other hand is German meaning “flash” or “lightning” and had a nice rhyme with Vixen.
It’s important to note that Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer is not mentioned in this verse, only the original eight reindeer! Poor Rudolph!
Rudolph joined Santa’s Reindeer in 1939 as a young fawn. When Rudolph is pulling Santa’s Sleigh with the other reindeer he is the lead reindeer because his glowing red nose lights the way during bad weather and foggy nights.