How Outdoor Reindeer Come to Bring Christmas into Our Homes

Christmas wrapping paper with reindeer

We can understand how Saint Nicholas/Santa Claus came to represent the generous spirit of Christmas. He is a saint, after all. But the little town of Bethlehem isn’t particularly well known for its population of outdoor reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) grazing about. So why did Santa choose that particular hoofed beast to steer his sleigh on Christmas Day?

Could it be because this graceful animal, used as a beast of burden in the regions near the Arctic Circle, is the only deer species that can be domesticated? Or perhaps because Santa doesn’t want to share his Christmas cookies? After all, outdoor reindeer like to eat moss, herbs, ferns, grasses, shoots, and leaves. Their favorite food is lichen—a moss-like fungi. Better not bake lichen cookies for Christmas, or you’ll have reindeer thundering down your chimney instead!

Kidding aside, there are many fun facts you can learn about reindeer. Here are just a few:

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The Origins of Santa’s Sleigh and Reindeer

Santa Claus with Sleigh and Reindeer

’Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.


Without a doubt the most popular Christian holiday in the west is Christmas; and this poem by Clement C. Moore, “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” is surely one of the most recognizable and beloved. The description of Santa Claus flying through the air on a sleigh drawn by eight reindeer is both fantastic and unforgettable.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave a luster of midday to objects below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer,
With a little old driver so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.

Clement Moore: The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
A page from the 1948 Artists and Writers Guild edition of “’Twas the Night Before Christmas”

But whence came such other-worldly imagery?

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