Santa Claus and seven of his reindeer in a parade in Toronto 2007.
Santa Claus's reindeer form an imaginary team of flying reindeer traditionally held to pull the sleigh of Santa Claus and help him deliver Christmas gifts. The commonly cited names of the reindeer are Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, and Blitzen. They are based on those used in the 1823 poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas" (commonly called "The Night Before Christmas"), which is arguably the basis of reindeer's popularity as Christmas symbols, and in which Donner and Blitzen were originally called Dunder and Blixem respectively.
at the climax of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City on November 27, 2008
In traditional lore, Santa Claus's sleigh is led by eight reindeer: Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Dunder (variously spelled Donder and Donner), and Blixem (variously spelled Blitzen and Blixen), with Rudolph being a 20th century inclusion.
The names of Donder and Blitzen derive from Germanic words for thunder and lightning, respectively.
The 1823 poem by Clement C. Moore "A Visit from St. Nicholas" (also known as "The Night Before Christmas" or "'Twas the Night Before Christmas") is largely credited for the contemporary Christmas lore that includes the eight flying reindeer and their names.
The relevant segment of the poem reads:
when, what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny rein-deer, 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 call'd them by name: "Now, Dasher! Now, Dancer! Now, Prancer, and Vixen! "On, Comet! On, Cupid! On, Dunder and Blixem!
"To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall! "Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!"
As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly, When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
In An American Anthology, 1787–1900, Edmund Clarence Stedman reprints the 1844 Clement Clarke Moore version of the poem, including the German spelling of "Donder and Blitzen," rather than the original 1823 version using the Dutch spelling, "Dunder and Blixem." Both phrases translate as "Thunder and Lightning" in English, though German for thunder is now spelled Donner, and the Dutch words would nowadays be spelled Donder and Bliksem.
Rudolph's story was originally written in verse by Robert L. May for the Montgomery Ward chain of department stores in 1939, and published as a book to be given to children in the store at Christmas time. According to this story, Rudolph's glowing red nose made him a social outcast among the other reindeer. However, one Christmas Eve Santa Claus was having a lot of difficulty making this flight around the world because it was too foggy. When Santa went to Rudolph's house to deliver his presents he noticed the glowing red nose in the darkened bedroom and decided it could be a makeshift lamp to guide his sleigh. He asked Rudolph to lead the sleigh for the rest of the night, Rudolph accepted and returned home a hero for having helped Santa Claus.
A real-life reindeer. Note the broader antlers and facial features compared to the ones found leading Santa's sleigh.
Although little information regarding the reindeer is disclosed in The Night Before Christmas, this has only allowed others to contribute to the backgrounds and folklore regarding them in other works (often portraying them with features more common to other species of deer or bovid). In part because of copyright issues, there is very little continuity between the various authors of reindeer-related works, resulting in widely varying depictions from author to author. Some have even created extra reindeer: but the only case so far in which another's addition to the traditional group achieved general acceptance in common parlance was in the case of Robert L. May's creation of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer".
Since the original poem, other books, movies, and music have contributed to the Christmas reindeer lore. The 1994 version of the film Miracle on 34th Street, for example, asserts that reindeer can only fly on Christmas Eve. Similarly, the famous 1964 Rankin-Bass stop-motion special on Rudolph asserts that Rudolph is the son of Donner (the 1998 movie has him instead as Blitzen's son).
Several literature, television, film and music pieces have made references to other reindeer. In many cases, these are explicitly related to other reindeer already in the fleet; however, these portrayals are usually never deemed as official and are constantly being rewritten and altered. The only case in which an addition to the team devised by another was in the case of the famous Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer by Robert L. May, gaining an iconic and traditional status.
L. Frank Baum's 1902 story The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus includes a list of ten reindeer, none of which match the names of the versions found in "A Visit from St. Nicholas." Flossie and Glossie are Santa's principal reindeer in Baum's story. Claus gathers eight more reindeer, named in rhyming pairs: Racer, Pacer, Fearless, Peerless, Ready, Steady, Feckless, and Speckless.
In the song "¿Dónde Está Santa Claus?", recorded by Augie Rios in 1958, two other reindeer are named in the verse that goes: "I hope he won't forget to crack his castanet, and to his reindeer say: On Pancho (a possible Spanish approximation of Prancer), on Vixen, on Pedro, on Blitzen, Ole, Ole, Ole!"
The 1964 Rudolph special features Fireball as one of several reindeer trying out for the sleigh team. Fireball is the son of Blitzen; another reindeer is said to be the son of Dasher and struggles at flying, along with two other reindeer fawns of the same age. A young fawn named Clarice is also featured and eventually becomes Rudolph's love interest. Donner is portrayed as Rudolph's father.
Olive, from a 1997 children's book and 1999 television special entitled Olive, the Other Reindeer, is not a reindeer but a dog. She mistook a news report regarding the plight of Blitzen as a "help wanted" ad and heads to the North Pole, where she fills in for him for the year.
The 1998 feature film, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Movie, introduces Mitzi as Rudolph's mother and Blitzen's wife (as opposed to the Rankin-Bass version, wherein Donner is Rudolph's father). It also features two other reindeer Rudolph's love interest Zoey and his cousin and rival Arrow.
In the 1999 TV special Robbie the Reindeer, the eponymousRobbie is obstensibly assumed to be the son of Rudolph. His special feature is his nose, which has supernatural powers that allow him to jump and fly farther and faster than most reindeer.
Chet is a young reindeer in training who is introduced in the 2002 feature film, The Santa Clause 2.
The 2002 South Park Christmas special, "Red Sleigh Down", introduces an entirely new fleet of reindeer after the traditional reindeer are killed, when the sleigh is shot down as Santa tries to bring Christmas to Iraq. The main characters rescue him by using the alternative reindeer named: Steven, Fluffy, Horace, Chantel, Skippy, Rainbow, Patches and Montel.
Thrasher is a top-secret, over-sized reindeer introduced in the 2009 Disney special Prep and Landing. He leads the titular "prep and landing" team of elves in a sleigh ahead of Santa Claus' main sled and is Dasher's second cousin.