In traditional festive legend, Santa Claus's reindeer are said to pull a sleigh through the night sky to help Santa Claus deliver gifts to children on Christmas Eve. The commonly cited names of the nine reindeer are Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen, and Rudolph, although Donner is sometimes called Donder.
The first eight reindeer are based on those used in the 1823 poem A Visit from St. Nicholas (commonly called The Night Before Christmas) by Clement Clarke Moore. This poem is probably responsible for the reindeer becoming popularly known.
Since the mid-20th century, popular culture has generally recognized Santa Claus as having nine reindeer—Moore's eight, plus Rudolph.
Some believe that flying reindeer could have been based on visions of reindeer flying by Sámi shamans after consuming fly agaric.
In traditional lore, Santa Claus's sleigh is led by eight reindeer: Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner (variously spelled Dunder and Donder) and Blitzen (variously spelled Blixen and Blixem). The enduring popularity of the 1949 Christmas song "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" has led to Rudolph often joining the list, bringing the number of Santa Claus's reindeer up to nine.
The first reference to Santa's sleigh being pulled by a reindeer appears in "Old Santeclaus with Much Delight", an 1821 illustrated children's poem published in New York. The names of the author and the illustrator are not known. The poem, with eight colored lithographic illustrations, was published by William B. Gilley as a small paperback book entitled The Children's Friend: A New-Year's Present, to the Little Ones from Five to Twelve. The illustration to the first verse features a sleigh with a sign saying "REWARDS" being pulled by a single reindeer.
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. Santa Claus's worldwide flight one year was imperiled by severe fog. Visiting Rudolph's house to deliver his presents, Santa observed Rudolph's glowing red nose in the darkened bedroom and decided to use him as a makeshift lamp to guide his sleigh. Rudolph accepted Santa's request to lead the sleigh for the rest of the night, and he returned home a hero for having helped Santa Claus. Since the mid-20th century, popular culture has generally recognized Rudolph as Santa's ninth reindeer.
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