” Now, Dasher! Now, Dancer! Now, prancer, and Vixen! On Comet! On Cupid! On Donder and Blitzen!” We all know the stories from our childhood about the jolly old man and his team of flying reindeer. But if you could see the true life of Rudolph, Dasher, and the others, you would come to realize that when they’re not pulling Santa’s sleigh, they’re out in the bitter lands of the north, just trying to survive.
Their story doesn’t actually start in the winter, but in spring in the far reaches of the arctic tundra. The reindeer (also called caribou) share this harsh land with many other creatures, including the snowshoe hair, the arctic fox, and even arctic wolves.
Dasher and the others were born anywhere from May to June, during which their mothers had chosen their own special spots to give birth. Many of the mother reindeer choose the same place every year to have babies. When Dasher and the team were born, they could have weighed up to twenty pounds, but could have been as light as a mere eleven. It’s not known for sure, but it’s speculated that Blitzen and Comet are siblings, both born from the same cow. Normally, it is very rare for reindeer to give birth to twins, but it does sometimes happen.
Within only minutes of their birth, the little ones could stand, and run after about ninety minutes. They would have had to grow up fast if they wanted to survive in a predator filled world. For the first year, their mothers would look after them, using their powerful hooves and long antlers to shield them from hungry animals like mountain lions, wolves and bears.
The mothers would lead their little ones back to the herds to introduce them to other siblings, as well as cousins, aunts, grandmothers, and so on. The herds are constantly on the move, another reason for calves to learn to grow up very soon. Eventually, the group melts into another gigantic herd filled with small families. When it gets cold, they will head south for winter feeding grounds.
For the first six months Dasher and the others suckled milk from their mothers, but they could also a graze at a month and half. When their second spring rolled around, they were much larger than before, and even their antlers had begun to grow.
Eventually, Comet and the team would reach adulthood at the age of three years. By this time, they are well aware of the dangers that the world holds for them. But they know how to protect themselves with their antlers, and they know there is safety in numbers. They also are very hidden when hunters are around, and have even established a way of sleeping in water if the situation ever called for it.
As adults, each individual weighed anywhere from 170 pounds to a whopping 260. They would sport downy coats, thick enough to protect them even in the fiercest of winters. Because Santa’s workshop is so far north, it’s probably safe to assume that Donder and the group are the more northern subspecies of caribou, that are usually more pale and smaller than their southern cousins.
The team wouldn’t actually come together until their third winter. Instead of migrating south with the other herds for better grazing, Dasher and the group would remain north. As Christmas approached, each reindeer put on weight and grew their coarse hides. When the the big day comes, every year, Santa latches the team to his sleigh, Rudolph and all. Their coats wave in the snowy air, and their antlers jut out mighty and proud.
Because of their antlers, this also how we know that Santa’s reindeer were all female. By Christmas, the bulls would have already dropped their antlers for the year, back in November and early December. Of course, by the time spring hits again, Dasher and the others will drop theirs as well. By then they will have plenty of time to relax with the herds before migration and Christmas hit the next winter.