Rudolph and His Reindeer Friends

In the 1949 song "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer," which two reindeer have names related to the weather?

And the answer: Donner and Blitzen.

Photo courtesy: Amazon.com

The 1949 song was written by Johnny Marks and recorded by singer Gene Autry. In German, "donner" means thunder, while "blitz" means lightning. However, a century earlier, in the 1823 poem "The Night Before Christmas," those two reindeer are known instead as Dunder and Blixem.

Making its first appearance in New York's Troy Sentinel in December of 1823, "A Visit From Saint Nicholas" quietly set in motion some of the most beloved Christmas traditions of all time. The poem's anonymous author combined elements of Scandinavian mythology with Dutch-American portrayals of a jolly, red-faced Santa Claus to paint a picture of a magical winter scene.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of midday to objects below;
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer.

Interestingly, the reindeer we now know to be Donner and Blitzen underwent a century of name changes before their current titles. In 1837, publisher Charles Fenno Hoffman printed a version of "A Visit from Saint Nicholas" that included several alterations from earlier versions, including the changing of "Blixem" to "Blixen" (to make it rhyme with "Vixen") and "Dunder" to "Donder" (perhaps to bring the spelling more in line with English pronunciation).

Marks and Autry's 1949 "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" helped solidify Donner and Blitzen's legacy when the song became a near instant holiday classic. Autry's recording of "Rudolph" sold more than 2 million units in its first year alone, quickly becoming the second-most successful Christmas record in history (after "White Christmas").

Today, "Rudolph" and "The Night Before Christmas" remain favorite holiday tales.

He sprung to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew, like the down of a thistle:
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight-
Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Listen to Michael Bublé narrate the classic poem below.


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