Reindeer are called caribou in North America. The animals they call reindeer live in the arctic and subarctic of Europe, which is where Santa originated. Regular reindeer can’t fly. Santa’s reindeer are different. Regular reindeer males lose their antlers around Christmas so Santa’s reindeer are either all females or they are special in more ways than just flying. Santa’s reindeer are always shown with their antlers in place.
Regular reindeer are three and half in height at the shoulder. They are three and a half feet long from shoulder to rump. That’s not very big. Males reach 211 pounds and female only 175 pounds. Santa’s reindeer fly and pull his sleigh around the world in one night. Regular reindeer are also used as draft animals, or as beasts of burden, carrying items for their owners. Domestication of reindeer probably started in the Bronze Age. No one knows when Santa started using his team. Arctic peoples who have domesticated reindeer herds use eight of them to pull their sleds, which is probably why Santa uses eight to pull his sleigh.
Reindeer can adapt their hooves to the season. In summer, the pads of their hooves become soft and spongy while in winter, they shrink up and get hard. This is an adaptation to life on the tundra. In the summer, tundra is soft and somewhat slippery so the softer pads give the reindeer traction on the slick tundra. In winter, the pads shrink and expose the hoof rims, which give the reindeer traction on the snow covered tundra.
Santa’s reindeer were originally called Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Dunder and Blixem. Over the years, Dunder became Donder and then Donner and Blixem turned into Bliksem, and then Blitzen. Santa added Rudolph to his team in 1939.
Santa’s reindeer are small enough to land his sleigh on the roofs of houses. They wait in the cold while Santa does his work, bringing gifts to children. Like all reindeer, they have a thick wooly undercoat covered with a longer over coat of hollow hairs that insulate them from the arctic cold. Their noses are wide and deep, which helps them warm the air before it gets to their lungs. This is an adaptation to the cold temperatures where they live.
Santa takes good care of his reindeer team, ensuring that they have plenty of lichens, moss, willow and birch leaves, sedges and grasses. He also gives them treats of mushrooms and even some bird eggs. Perhaps it would be good for kids to leave some moss for the reindeer next Christmas in addition to Santa’s milk and cookies. They must get hungry, flying around the world in one night.
He also helps them when they give birth in May or June and also endeavors to keep the males from hurting each other during the mating season in September to November. Fortunately, the mating season is over in time for the Christmas flight.
That ride is over now, for another year, but Santa will do it all again next year. For now, he is back at the North Pole feeding his reindeer their favorite meal of lichens and moss. In the barn, are the females who are carrying the next generation of flying reindeer that will carry the sleigh on the annual trip around the world.