2009 Contemporary Christmas
Issue Date: October 8, 2009
City: New York, NY
Did the tale of Rudolph, the Red-nosed Reindeer, evolve from the goats of Thor, the Norse god of Thunder? The association of reindeer with Christmas has its roots in folklore, and one of the oldest might be from Norse mythology. Legend says Thor flew through the sky in a chariot pulled by flying goats. Scandinavian winter festivals often mimicked this tale and featured goat costumes, much to the disapproval of the Christian authorities.
With the tale of Santa Claus coming from the North Pole, it was easy to associate reindeer with Santa. Reindeer can pull up to twice their weight, so Lapplanders (northern Scandanavians) used reindeer to pull sleds. Clement Moore established the relationship in his poem, A Visit from St. Nicholas. Moore named a team of eight reindeer pulling Santa’s sleigh. In a twist on the legend of Thor’s goats, two of the reindeer were named “Donder” (Dutch for “Thunder”) and “Blitzen” (German for “Lightning”).
In 1939, Robert May was given a task by his boss, Montgomery Ward. May was to write a short Christmas story as a promotional tool for Ward’s store. May wrote about a misfit young reindeer with a red, glowing nose. The story was a smash hit and the legend of Rudolph began. With it, the role of reindeer as a symbol of the holidays was firmly in place.