No. More like an industry – what with the rearing of the animals, themselves, and the whole Christmas thing.

So, let’s talk reindeer.

What Are They?

A male reindeer

The reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) is a type of deer, originating in the Arctic, and the Sub-Arctic regions bordering the North Pole. In North America, the reindeer is also known as the caribou.

Reindeer vary considerably in color and size. Generally, both male and female of the species grow antlers – the branched horns, characteristic of deer. In a few populations, however, the females do not grow antlers, at all. The antlers of the male reindeer are typically larger. And in many species, the males lose their antlers in winter, the horns growing back during the warmer seasons of the year.

Interaction With Humans

Humans started hunting reindeer in the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods. Norway and Greenland have unbroken traditions of hunting wild reindeer, dating from the Ice Age to the present day.

Wild caribou are still hunted in North America and Greenland. In the traditional lifestyle of the Inuit people, the Northern First Nations people, Alaska Natives, and the Kalaallit of Greenland, the caribou is an important source of food, clothing, shelter, and tools.

Wild reindeer hunting and the herding of semi-domesticated reindeer (for meat, hides, antlers, milk, and transportation) remains a key activity of several Arctic and Sub-Arctic peoples – including the Sami and the Nenets. Herded reindeer are not considered fully domesticated, as they generally roam free, on pasture ground.

Tradition has it that the blood of the caribou was mixed with alcohol, and drunk by hunters and loggers in colonial Quebec, Canada, to counter the cold. The drink is still enjoyed today (without the blood) as a wine and whiskey beverage called Caribou.

The United States Revenue Cutter Service introduced the reindeer to Alaska in the late 19th century, as a means of livelihood for Native peoples, there. The reindeer were herded as semi-domesticated livestock. A regular mail run in Wales, Alaska, used a sleigh drawn by reindeer.

Speaking of which…

Connection To Christmas

Remember that old legend (“12 Daze of Christmas, 3: Men, Bearing Gifts”) with Thor’s dad, Odin, riding an eight-legged horse over the rooftops, at Yule time?

Some argue that this gave rise to the idea of Santa Claus riding a sleigh pulled by eight flying reindeer (initially; pre-Rudolph).

Santa’s reindeer were first named as Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Dunder, and Blixem in the 1823 poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (a.k.a. “The Night Before Christmas”). In time, Dunder was changed to Donder then, ultimately, Donner – which means “thunder”, in German. Blixem became Bliksem, then Blitzen (German for “lightning”).

Then, There Were Nine

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is a fictional reindeer character with a glowing red nose. Popularly known as “Santa’s 9th Reindeer”, he is usually depicted as the lead reindeer pulling Santa’s sleigh, on Christmas Eve (Dec. 24). The light from Rudolph’s nose guides the team’s way, in the harsh winter weather.

Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Robert L. May created Rudolph in 1939, as an assignment for the department store, Montgomery Ward. The shops had been buying and giving away children’s coloring books for Christmas every year, and felt it would be more economical to produce their own.

May originally considered naming his creation Rolo, or Reginald, before settling on the name Rudolph.

2.4 million copies of the booklet were distributed by Montgomery Ward, in its first year of publication. Rudolph’s story is still being sold, today.

Robert May’s brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, was a radio producer, and author of several popular Christmas songs. Marks adapted the story of Rudolph into a song, which was first sung commercially by the crooner Harry Brannon, on New York City radio in early November 1949.

“Singing Cowboy” Gene Autry released his own version on November 25, 1949 – and reached the number-one position in the singles chart of Christmas 1949. The record sold 2.5 million copies that first year. It eventually sold 25 million, and remained the best-selling single of all time, until the 1980s.

The reindeer games continue. And the money train rolls on.

We’re taking a halt at this point, however.

See you soon.