Santa’s Female Reindeer

David Emery has posted an intriguing piece of netlore concerning the gender of Santa's reindeer. Here's the text of the email that's going around:

According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, while both male and female reindeer grow antlers in the summer each year (the only members of the deer family, Cervidae, to have females do so), male reindeer drop their antlers at the beginning of winter, usually late November to mid December. Female reindeer retain their antlers till after they give birth in the spring.
Therefore, according to every historical rendition depicting Santa's reindeer, every single one of them, from Rudolf to Blitzen ... had to be a female.
We should've known this when they were able to find their way.

David confirms that most male reindeer lose their antlers by early December... but it is possible for younger bulls to keep their antlers until well into the spring. So it's technically possible for Santa's reindeer to be male. However, it does look like it's more probable that Donner, Blitzen, and the rest of them are female, based on the antler evidence.

Animals Folklore/Tall Tales

Posted on Sun Dec 05, 2004


I'm sure you mean "Donder", not "Donner". It's an oft-repeated, and even oft-published mistake, but it really should be "Donder," male or female.
Posted by Matt  on  Mon Dec 06, 2004  at  11:10 AM
I've seen lots of different stories about the reindeer's names. Isn't there a debate over whether or not Blitzen is actually supposed to be Blitzem?
Posted by Maegan  on  Mon Dec 06, 2004  at  01:13 PM
"Donner und blitzen" is German for "thunder and lightning," but there is a lot of variation in different German dialects, so "Donder" is probably also possible, and the variation "Blitzem" may even exist (though it sounds a bit more like Yiddish than High German).

As to whether male reindeer can have antlers at Christmastime, I think I'll check with my brother at the University of Alaska (where some of the world's leading experts on reindeer biology also work). If I find out the answer, I'll post it here. Stay tuned.
Posted by Big Gary C  on  Mon Dec 06, 2004  at  02:21 PM
It's a convoluted story (at least, as much as is known about it) that's guaranteed to bore the hell out of people at your next dinner party.
Posted by Charybdis  on  Mon Dec 06, 2004  at  02:42 PM
Hmm, so they were originally called "Dunder and Blixem" (which is Dutch, as is at least part of our Santa Claus tradition), which gradually morphed into "Donner and Blitzen" (which means the same thing in German).
I'm glad to know this, but, as you say, Charybdis, I don't think I'll ever be able to repeat it without boring the life out of the listener.
Posted by Big Gary C  on  Mon Dec 06, 2004  at  05:48 PM
I also saw this email with the line...
Who else would be able to haul a fat guy around & still be on time without losing their way?? was something like that anyway.
Posted by Maegan  on  Tue Dec 07, 2004  at  11:09 AM
The reindeer may not be the only ladies along on that sleighride.
"Santa" is the Spanish and Italian title for a female saint ("San" is the masculine equivalent). So maybe Rudolph's boss is a bearded lady, and maybe "Kris Kringle" is short for "Kristina Kringle."
Posted by Big Gary C  on  Tue Dec 07, 2004  at  12:51 PM
I always wondered about the Santa part. I just figured it was a lost in translation thing like the reindeer names.
Posted by Maegan  on  Wed Dec 08, 2004  at  08:37 AM
I don't know about all you Northern Hemisphere types, but here in the south of Sydney, Australia, we have a national park which rivals Yellowstone as one of the world's oldest gazetted national parks. Some idiot, over a hundred years ago, thought it would be nice to be able to ride to hounds and released a number of Rusa deer, rabbits and foxes into Royal National Park (the 'Royal' got added over a hundred years after the Park was gazetted). So much for our extremely delicate ecological balance - foxes hunt native wildlife; deer have hard hooves which cut the delicate plant roots on the sandy soil and muddy the waterholes. Hunting is now banned (it's a national park) so we now have deer in plague proportions which emerge each night and rampage through our gardens. Our Christmas is a summer one, but the stags definitely have antlers while the females do not. We went for a walk on Christmas Eve and saw a herd of about two dozen about to stroll around the village for their nightly munch. Santa, please take ours!
Posted by Helen  on  Sun Dec 26, 2004  at  06:10 AM
"it does look like it's more probable that Donner, Blitzen, and the rest of them are female, based on the antler evidence."

So I guess this also confirms that Santa must have recruited his reindeer from somewhere where it is Winter. I mean, otherwise it would be more probable that they were male.
Posted by Dave  on  Fri Jan 21, 2005  at  09:41 AM
hey santa
i'm 10 know n i have to say is dancer a girl and is there any outher girls on ur slay that help?
has rudolf got a girlfriend
Posted by myshala  on  Sat Dec 24, 2005  at  09:00 PM
How about the fact that they supposedly FLY aroudn the ENTIRE WORLD in 1 night and deliever presents to children. I think they can be whetever the hell they want because last time I checked none of the reindeer we have can fly. For all we know Santa's reindeer could have no sex and just be animals. They fly for christ's sake.
Posted by Russell  on  Wed Dec 19, 2007  at  09:58 AM
Males: Donder, Dasher, Cupid, Prancer
Females: Comet, Blitzen, Dancer, Vixen

Some male reindeer have been reported to keep their antlers as late as April, so there definitely could be male reindeer pulling the sleigh. Besides, all of the reindeer aren't females because Santa Claus is an equal opportunity employer. 😉
Posted by Jessa  on  Fri Dec 21, 2007  at  05:54 PM
The beginning of winter is December 21st. They lose their antlers DURING the beginning of winter. This allows enough time to have their antlers on the 25, also, Santa's reindeer are magical, so they don't have to follow the laws of normalness!! Also, they couldn't be female. Females would stop and ask for directions, and that would take more time!! So HAH!
Posted by Mike  on  Tue Dec 25, 2007  at  07:05 PM
Well, it's my professional opinion that the reindeer can be male or female, probably half and half, because they're magical anyhow, and the facts state they could be either. Also, they shouldn't need to stop and ask for directions! They just land on every roof top and Santa does the rest! Plus, they've been doing the same trip for how long now? How could they need directions?!
Posted by Prancer  on  Thu Oct 23, 2008  at  01:35 AM
Wouldn't it also depend on where you are in the world?
Posted by Amber  on  Thu Dec 10, 2009  at  06:50 PM
Ok I know we all know vixen is a girl. I can almost gaurntee its highly likely that dancer and prancer are girls cause if not they'd be made fun of more then poor rudolph whom is likely just a young male they probably age slower up in north pole cause of friggid weather and fyi santa has about 3 nights with time changes. Now which of others are female or possibly sterile male is up for debate and maybe not much like santa but if vixen behaved like her name it wouldn't supriae me if to prevent more babies santa castrated the males to prevent more baby reindeer.
Posted by Amanda-Beth  on  Fri Nov 23, 2012  at  06:50 AM
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