Reindeer have captivated our imaginations throughout history, with their enchanting connections to festive celebrations and folklore. As early as 1823, Charles Dickens introduced Santa’s eight famous reindeer in a charming poem, assigning the well-known monikers of Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, and Blitzen. Soon after, in 1939, Robert L. May’s delightful storybook “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and its accompanying 1949 Christmas song solidified Rudolph’s place as the ninth, beloved member of Santa’s reindeer team.

Our fascination with these creatures extends beyond their roles in Christmas legends. Reindeer have long been celebrated in Scandinavian and Eastern European traditions, holding a special place in pagan mythology. Over time, these ancient practices were incorporated into Christmas festivities during the Middle Ages. As we continue to explore the enchanting world of reindeer, we’ll delve into the facts and myths surrounding these extraordinary animals to better understand where reality meets fantasy.

Yes, Reindeer Are Real!

Reindeer, also known as caribou, belong to the species Rangifer tarandus and can be found in various northern regions of the Northern Hemisphere. Both wild and domesticated reindeer are known as reindeer in Eurasia, while the wild subspecies in North America is commonly called caribou.

These fascinating mammals have been admired for their gentle and reliable nature for centuries. Fictional characters like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer reveal how reindeer have captured people’s imagination, symbolizing their real-life capabilities.

Reindeer hold significant cultural importance, providing not only transportation and shelter but also food. In fact, many cultures believe that reindeer antlers possess medicinal properties, using them as a natural remedy.

Some subspecies of reindeer include the Svalbard reindeer, Peary caribou, Queen Charlotte Islands caribou, boreal woodland caribou, tundra reindeer, and forest reindeer. Reindeer have been associated with inventiveness, resourcefulness, and knowledge since ancient times. They are even featured in the popular tale of Father Christmas, guiding his sleigh safely through harsh winter landscapes. Domesticated since the Bronze Age, reindeer continue to play an invaluable role in the lives of those who rely on them.

Can Real Reindeer Fly?

Although commonly associated with Santa Claus and his famous sleigh every Christmas, real reindeer do not possess the ability to fly. Unlike bats, the only mammals with actual wings, reindeer are not capable of taking flight. However, reindeer can move at impressive speeds, reaching up to 49 mph in short bursts.

Reindeer have been traditionally used by Lapland locals in Finland to pull sleighs, similar to the ones featured in classic Christmas stories. While real reindeer might not take flight like Rudolph and his team, these incredible creatures are known for their exceptional leaping abilities. Capable of leaping six feet into the air, and even gliding at times, reindeer have garnered a reputation for their agility.

For deer hunters in the United States, this concept of extended leaping is familiar, as many whitetail deer can jump fences as high as six to eight feet. Notably, renowned wildlife photographer Charles Alsheimer documented a buck clearing a staggering 35-foot gap while being chased!

While real reindeer might not have red noses or fly Santa’s sleigh through the sky, their exceptional leaping abilities and incredible speed surely make them remarkable animals in their own right.

Where Are Reindeer from Originally?

Reindeer initially inhabited regions like Scandinavia, Eastern Europe, and Greenland. It’s thought that they once lived in Scotland as well, until the 12th century when the last reindeer were hunted in Orkney. In the 19th century, Southern Idaho also had reindeer populations. During the late Pleistocene period, wild reindeer, or caribou, were found in North America’s Nevada, Tennessee, and Alabama, and even in Spain in Europe. However, over time, their presence in these areas dwindled, particularly in the south.

Nowadays, wild reindeer can be spotted in countries like Norway, Finland, Siberia, Greenland, Alaska, and Canada. Some reindeer subspecies are rare, or even extinct, such as the Canadian Queen Charlotte Islands caribou and the East Greenlandic Arctic reindeer. Conservation organizations like the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada have classified woodland caribou as threatened in 2002, while the IUCN lists the Rangifer Tarandus as vulnerable.

Reindeer Are Real And Amazing!

Reindeer, remarkable creatures admired in literature and culture, possess unique characteristics that distinguish them from other deer. Unlike most deer species, both male and female reindeer have antlers. Among living deer species, these antlers are the largest and heaviest. Male reindeer antlers can reach up to 51 inches in length, while female antlers can grow up to 20 inches.

In the wild, reindeer can live for up to 15 years, with domesticated reindeer living up to 20 years. Presently, about 2.5 million reindeer are being farmed across nine countries, accounting for approximately half of the world’s reindeer population. There are around 100,000 people responsible for their care.

Here are some fascinating facts about reindeer:

  • Diet: Reindeer primarily consume lichen, grass, and mushrooms.
  • Migration: They undertake long migration journeys, traveling between warmer and colder seasons.
  • Habitat: These mammals are native to Arctic, subarctic, tundra, boreal, and mountainous regions of Northern Europe, Siberia, and North America1.
  • Herds: Reindeer live in herds, with males and females usually forming separate groups.
  • Predators: They are vulnerable to predators like wolves and bears.
  • Breeding: The breeding season, or rut, typically takes place in October, resulting in a calf after a gestation period of about 7.5 months1.
  • Conservation status: Some reindeer subspecies face threats due to climate change and habitat loss, while others are still abundant1.

Reindeer are undeniably captivating creatures, offering a glimpse into the wonders of the animal kingdom.


  1. Reindeer – Wikipedia 2 3

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