Glistening lights, glints of gold, decadent treats, wafting cinnamon and cloves, perfectly creased ornate paper, topped with perfect bows… Ah, the traditions of Christmas.
Over the years, we’ve polished and refined the season, making Christmas sound, look, taste and smell better than any other single day on the calendar. If we were to go back to the beginning, I suppose Christmas would be spent in the barn as it began, surrounded by musty hay and the smells of warm manure.
However, while congregating in barns to commemorate the special day isn’t part of modern routines, the animal component of Christmas certainly hasn’t gone away, even if it has evolved a little here and there.
Of course, the central story has its different versions, with a jolly fat man and his bag of toys now riding through the night instead of a very pregnant woman carrying an equally heavy gift (guess centuries ago, selling impoverished children on the idea of being “nice” just to get yet another baby didn’t go over quite as well as toys and candy).
But the donkey that carried her?
Well, he didn’t exactly make it into subsequent stories either, but there’s been no shortage of champions to transport the Christmas prize since he made the first trek.
In the 13th century, rather than a donkey, an eight-legged horse named Sleipnir’s extra appendages allowed him to leap across the world in service of a gift-giving Germanic god.
To this day, some children in Germanic regions still place their boots next to the chimney filled with munchies such as hay, carrots and sugar, in the hopes that after Sleipnir chows, his rider will leave gifts.
For other European children, however, the eight-legged horse is actually a white-gray horse who spends up to three weeks carrying an elderly man across rooftops so he can drop sweets and gifts for the well-behaved into chimneys.
Scandinavians were once terrorized by a man dressed as a goat who spent Christmas harassing the population with pranks and demands until they gave him gifts. The “Yule Goat” must have been stricken by guilt because at some point, he changed his tune and started giving instead of taking.
Turning out to be a job too big for one goat, he later teamed up with gnomish gift givers, pulling their sleighs so they could deliver presents.
How or why reindeer entered the picture is mostly speculation, though it is thought to have been nothing more than the product of early 1820’s holiday prose, from New York, no less.
With the publication of “The Night Before Christmas,” it was a sleigh pulled by jingling, antlered reindeer, which replaced the donkey-octaequine-gosthorse-mangoat.
It’s a good thing there are eight of those strapping reindeer bulls too, because with the modern version growing wildly popular world-wide – between the fat man and the amount of toys it would take to gift children everywhere, that’s one heavy sleigh.
Oh, but wait… there’s been a little misunderstanding…
It turns out, in the spring calving season, the antlers of female reindeer fall off, regrowing over the summer after their babies are born. Male reindeer, on the other hand, usually drop their antlers by mid-December and are bare-headed on Christmas.
Which means, yep, you guessed it… Santa’s an equal rights employer, recognizing the value of girl power a full 100 years before passage of the 19th Amendment.
And in honor of working moms everywhere, tonight some pickles and ice cream may be better than the carrots you traditionally put out for Santa’s hard working ladies, because not only are Blitzen, Dasher, Prancer, Comet and even Rudolf, all girls, but with a seven month gestation period, they are probably all expecting babies in April.