Santa Clause's reindeer are a team of flying animals traditionally held to pull his sleigh and help him deliver Christmas gifts. The commonly cited names of the reindeer are based on those used in the 1823 poem A Visit from St. Nicholas, arguably the basis of reindeer's popularity as Christmas symbols, where they are called Dasher and Dancer, Prancer and Vixen, Comet and Cupid, and Dunder and Blixem. Dunder was later changed to Donder and — in other works — Donner, and Blixem was later changed to Blitzen. The subsequent popularity of the Christmas song "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" has led to another reindeer name joining the popular roll-call. Reindeer are, in fact, real live animals that inhabit the arctic tundras of many icy regions.
In the poem, Santa's transport is a "miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer" and the reindeer are "more rapid than eagles." The poem does not describe them, nor their positions in the sleigh-team, but does say they fly.
The relevant segment of the poem reads:
With a little old driver so lively and quick,In An American Anthology, 1787–1900, Edmund Clarence Stedman reprints the 1844 Clement Clarke Moore version of the poem, including the German spelling of "Donder and Blitzen," rather than the original 1823 version using the Dutch spelling, "Dunder and Bliksem." Both phrases translate as "Thunder and Lightning" in English, though German for thunder is now spelled Donner, and the Dutch words would nowadays be spelled Donder and Bliksem.
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles, his coursers they came,
And he whistled and shouted and called them by name:
Now Dasher! Now Dancer! Now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! On, Cupid! On, Donder and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! To the top of the wall! and off and off we will fly!
Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!
Since this poem, other books, movies, and music have contributed to the Christmas reindeer lore. The 1994 remake of the 1947 film Miracle on 34th Street, for example, asserts that reindeer can only fly on Christmas Eve.
According to this story, Rudolph was the son of Donner, and was born with a glowing red nose, which made him a social outcast among the other reindeer. However, one Christmas eve it was too foggy for Santa Claus to make his flight around the world. About to cancel, Santa suddenly noticed Rudolph's nose, and decided it could be a makeshift lamp to guide his sleigh. Since then Rudolph has been said to be a permanent member of Santa's team, and leads them on their way.
In the TV special Robbie the Reindeer, the eponymous Robbie is ostensibly assumed to be the son of Rudolph. His special feature is that his nose has supernatural powers that allow him to jump and fly farther and faster than most reindeer; in addition, it also leads to Robbie literally having a "nose" for geography as it can lead Robbie to just about any location in the world.
In the 2006 TV special Holidaze: The Christmas That Almost Didn't Happen, Rusty is said to be Rudolph's brother. Unlike the other reindeer, Rusty is powerless, flightless and in fact notably clumsy. Unfit for pulling Santa's sleigh, he instead assists Santa and the other reindeer from air traffic control.
Olive, in a 1999 Christmas special entitled Olive, the Other Reindeer, is not a reindeer but a dog. She mistook a news report regarding the plight of one of Santa's reindeer as a "help wanted" ad and heads to the North Pole, where she fills in for the ill reindeer for the year. (This is a play on the words "all of the other reindeer," with the name "Olive" substituted for "all of.")
Annabelle, from the 1997 direct-to-video special Annabelle's Wish, is a young cow who was born on Christmas Eve and thus possesses "the magic of Christmas." She eventually becomes a reindeer herself and pulls Santa's sleigh, which has been Annabelle's lifelong goal.
The 1964 Rudolph special features Fireball as one of several reindeer trying out for the sleigh team. With fire-red hair, Fireball is the son of Blitzen and is often preoccupied with does. Comet's daughter, a young fawn named Clarice, also is featured, although she is not said to be trying out for the team.
Chet is a young reindeer in training who was introduced in the feature film The Santa Clause 2. Because of his age, he has a tendency to be clumsy and awkward; however, he is able to help Santa save Christmas.
Joe Diffie's single "Leroy the Redneck Reindeer" features Leroy, who is Rudolph's cousin. Leroy, as stated in the title, is a redneck who wears a John Deere tractor hat and has a knack for dancing the two-step. Leroy replaces his ill cousin Rudolph as the leader of the sleigh team for the year.
Loretta Lynn's 1974 single "Shadrack, the Black Reindeer" introduced the speedy Shadrack. In the song, Rudolph has gotten older and slower. An already late Santa threatens to leave him behind, but the other reindeer suggest that they will complete their rounds on time if Shadrack and Rudolph lead the team side by side, and they succeed in doing so.
In the song "¿Dónde Está Santa Claus?" recorded by Augie Rios, two other reindeer are named in the verse that goes: "I hope he won't forget to crack his castanet, and to his reindeer say: On Pancho, on Vixen, on Pedro, on Blitzen, Ole, Ole, Ole!"
The South Park Christmas Special "Red Sleigh Down" introduces an entirely new fleet of reindeer after the traditional reindeer are killed when the sleigh is shot down as Santa tries to bring Christmas to Iraq. The main characters rescue him by using the alternative reindeer named Steven, Fluffy, Horace, Chantel, Skippy, Rainbow, Patches and Montel. Their names are sung in a similar fashion in order to make them fly. It is assumed that they take over as replacement for the lost reindeer, although resurrection has occurred frequently in the South Park universe.
The Ray Stevens song "Santa Claus is Watching You" features Clyde (who's actually a camel borrowed from Stevens's previous song "Ahab the Arab"), who replaces Rudolph for the year. According to the original 1965 version of the song, Rudolph "dislocated his hip in a Twist contest", so Clyde is his replacement. In a later version of the song, in which the singer is talking to his lover, Rudolph is "on a stakeout" at the lover's house (making sure said person remains true to the singer). The song also lists, in a rambling style typical of Stevens's early songs, the original fleet of reindeer plus two undescribed other reindeer named Bruce and Marvin. Later editions of the songs add a longer more rambling list of Leon, Cletus, George, Bill, Slick, Do-Right, Ace, Blackie, Queenie, Prince, Spot, and Rover.
In the 1999 movie Blizzard, other reindeer are shown to live at the North Pole, two being a reindeer called Blizzard who has the ability to become invisible and to see the whereabouts of people, and DJ, Blizzard's best friend. There is also Aphrodite, a female reindeer who reports to an elder called Archimedes.