Some questions elicit such curiosity that they simply must be examined even if unequivocal confirmation is unlikely to appear. The hope is to find answers to content a large sample of inquisitors. Today’s question: of what gender, or mix of genders, are Santa’s reindeer?
While this poser might not be of quite the import as to whether Santa sleeps with his whiskers above or below the covers (the well-respected documentary film, Miracle on 34th Street, confirmed that it was above…as cold air makes them grow), it has been no less vexing. Researchers across the country have contributed important information to help us figure out the make-up of Santa’s flying ruminants.
The biggest piece of info comes from Texas A&M verterinary medicine professor Alice Blue-McLendon. She suggests that Santa’s reindeer could not be male given that every depiction of the magical beast shows them fully antlered…and males generally drop their antlers before Christmas.
But, it seems, that’s not the whole story. According to Greg Finstad, who manages the Reindeer Research Program at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, castrated males (or “steers”) retain their antlers until late winter, just as non-pregnant females do.
Given that non-castrated males tend to weaken themselves during the late-fall rutting season, and pregnant females are…well, pregnant, we can see that our candidates have to be steers or non-expectant females. In fact, Finstad added that steers are most often used by sledders because they stay in good condition throughout the winter.
So, now we have two pools of these caribou to draw from. What other distinctions can be made? I’m thinking names. Let us consider: Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donder (it’s is not…not not not not “Donner”), Blitzen, and Rudolph. In our more flexible time where girls are often named Sam, Michael, and Charlie, the distinctions might not seem so obvious, but I think we must remember that these deer were named in a more “traditional” time.
Also important to keep in mind is that males and females were often segregated into their separate groups through much of human history (this applies to humans as well as to animals). Thus, I think the most obvious grouping of the traditional eight would be to have Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, and Vixen in the female group and Comet, Cupid, Donder, and Blitzen in with the steers. Though, to be honest, if it were up to me I’d switch Dasher and Cupid. The grouping of Comet (shooting star), Dasher (speed), Donder (thunder), and Blitzen (lightning) seems very logical in a stereotypical sort of way. These are very physical names while the other four are more elegant (Dancer, Prancer) or more attached to the idea of love (Cupid, Vixen). Rudolph, of course, is the foggy-weather lead steer.
So, this gives us a pretty good idea of the team that pulls Santa’s sleigh. Rudolph (steer) as needed by weather. The good-weather leads are Dasher and Dancer: a steer and a doe, with a well-segregated mix supplying the power. All-in-all, it would seem that Santa assembled and arranged a team in the optimum configuration for speed, agility, and power…all the things necessary for efficient flight. I hope they will have a safe trip, and to all a good night.