In the Spirit of the Season

Reindeer, Rangifer tarandus, also known as caribou, are members of the deer family that inhabit the subarctic regions of Europe, Asia and North America. The largest reindeer can reach up to 4 feet high at the shoulder and weigh 250 pounds. They are well-adapted to living in cold conditions having thick, waterproof coats and large, broad hooves that act like snowshoes. Both sexes have antlers with the male’s being larger and palmate (shaped like a hand) at the top.
 
In the 1823 “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” Clement C. Moore popularized the notion that Santa’s sleigh was pulled by “eight tiny reindeer.” But over the centuries and in various parts of the world the pulling has been done by a single reindeer, horses and even goats.
 
The image of Santa’s reindeer has changed since then. Often Santa’s “coursers” look more like white-tails than the hardy reindeer of old. However, recently artists like children’s author Jan Brett have illustrated these animals as they truly appear.
 
One trivia question that is often asked at this time of year is to name all eight of Santa’s reindeer. Most people can: Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen. The latter two were originally named Dunder and Blixem, which translated to English from the Dutch meant “thunder” and “lightning.”
 
However, a more difficult piece of trivia is, “Which of the reindeer are female?” If you go by their names, perhaps only Vixen can be identified as such, because “vixen” is the name for a female fox. Using this method, the gender of the rest would be up to individual interpretation.

But if you go by reindeer biology, the answer is all of them. You see, by Dec. 25, mature male reindeer have shed their antlers, so any reindeer that still had antlers while pulling Santa’s sleigh would be female or perhaps, a young male. And since the reindeer have been around since 1823, we know they are not kids … or calves, as the case may be.

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