Christmas without the cute Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer would not be the same as he is now one of the many things which symbolises the fun side of Christmas. This Rudolph was originally created for the Chicago based Montgomery Ward group in 1939 when Robert L May, one of their copywriters, was asked to come up with a promotional giveaway for the stores. His book 'Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer' was published in 1947 and a cartoon appeared the following year. Robert May's brother-in-law, songwriter Johnny Marks, wrote the song which was recorded by Gene Autry in 1949 and which went on to become one of the best selling songs of all time (second only to 'White Christmas'). Burl Ives narrated a TV special about Rudolph in 1964 and that is still a great holiday favourite in the USA.
However, the real reindeer is very much a magical animal too because of it's association with pulling the sleigh of Father Christmas over snowy rooftops on Christmas Eve whilst Santa makes his deliveries.
Reindeer were first domesticated as long as two thousand years ago and in the Artic Circle the Lapps herd them as we would cattle. Huge herds of reindeer roam across the Artic tundra and people depend on them for many things. These days the numbers of reindeer are dwindling though, as much of the wilderness has now been lost due to things like drilling for oil and mineral mining. Hydro schemes have re-routed rivers and many of the traditional migration routes have been destroyed.
Reindeer are well adapted to living in cold and rugged conditions. They can smell out food even when it is under deep snow, and have big broad hooves which act like snowshoes to support them over snowy and boggy ground. They emit a clicking sound as they walk, this is caused by a tendon in the foot rubbing against a bone. They have a coat of thick fur - stiff hairs keep out the worst of the weather whilst a thick woolly undercoat protects them from deep cold by trapping the air near the skin. Their thick coats are also waterproof and during migration they often cover vast distances and cross rivers and lakes in their search for good feeding grounds. Reindeer calves are born in early Summer and can run around almost as soon as they are born because they have to keep up with their mothers. The antlers of the male are larger than those of the female and are palmate at the top - like open hands - and a span of four feet has been recorded.
The Christmas magic of Santa Claus and his team of reindeer is something looked forward to with great excitement by children all around the world!