S. Claus’s “eight tiny reindeer¹” are members of a subspecies, Rangifer tarandus pearyi J. A. Allen, found only on high-latitude Arctic islands. A distinguishing characteristic of the Peary subspecies, in addition to their small size, is the long silky white coat they develop during winter², a fitting complement to the trim of Santa’s outfit. Since they live even farther to the north than the Inuit do (at least in recent generations), they have been very little disturbed by people, and there have been few opportunities to observe their winter activities. The subspecies’ connection with Mr. Claus was not reported3 until recently.
1. Observed by Major Henry Livingston, Jr. around 1808 (?). He published the poem now known as “The Night before Christmas” anonymously in 1823. In his book, Author Unknown: On the Trail of Anonymous (Henry Holt, 2000), Vassar professor Don Foster has rather conclusively demonstrated that Clement Clarke Moore’s claim of authorship, asserted 14 years later, is fraudulent; Moore is a plagiarist. See www.library.utoronto.ca/utel/rp/poems/livingston1.html#1n
2. A. W. F. Banfield.
A revision of the Reindeer and Caribou genus, Rangifer.
Ottawa: National Museum of Canada, 1961.
Mount to the Sky. (How Things Work column)
Life, December 1993, pages 102-104.
Copyright © 2001 Sizes, Inc. All rights reserved.
Last revised: 14 December 2001.