How many of Santa’s reindeer can you name?
I don’t know anyone who can’t think of at least one. It may not be fair on the others, but everyone knows about Rudolph. I guess it’s because he’s special.
Of course, a lot of people believe it’s the same reindeer every year. Truth is, the names are more like titles; each reindeer pulls the sleigh for seven years, then retires to spend the rest of their long lives being spoilt rotten by the elves.
There are always at least eight; there’s always been Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen. There’s only a Rudolph if there’s a red nosed reindeer around that year, and those years are thought to be particularly lucky because a red nosed reindeer is a pretty rare thing.
I was lucky enough to be looking after a certain retired Vixen when she gave birth to a reindeer with a nose so rosy that even the original Rudolph would have been jealous. We were all so excited, looking forward to the good years to come with a Rudolph at the head of the sleigh, we started dancing and singing right on the spot. My cousin ran out shouting the good news to the rest of the elves.
I watched the little fella stand up on shaky legs and walk straight into a wall.
We all fell silent. We hoped at first that he was just a little clumsy- that we could have solved with training- but it soon became obvious that the little guy was blind as a bat.
What were we going to do? Everybody had heard the kerfuffle we made, they knew that there was a red nosed reindeer and they all expected a Rudolph at the head of the sleigh that year. But how could a blind reindeer lead the sleigh? It was unthinkable. They’d be horribly lost, and the presents would never be delivered on time.
A solution had to be found.
First we talked about replacing the poor little guy. There were other reindeer the same age- if we could figure out a way to paint a nose red, another reindeer could take his place.
Trouble was, everything we tried washed away in the snow.
Then we thought, maybe he could see a little and just needed help. He seemed to be able to find his food okay, at least. We collected up old spectacles from all the elves in the North Pole, telling them it was for charity, and trying them all on little Rudolph to see if it made any difference. He kept on walking into walls.
We were out of options and it was getting horribly close to Christmas.
I went to talk to Santa myself. Like everyone else in the North Pole, he’d heard that a red nosed reindeer had been born, and was looking forward to an auspicious Christmas Eve.
“How’s our new little Rudolph getting along then?”
I took my hat off and looked down at the floor. “Well, sir, there’s a… the thing is…” I trailed off. I didn’t know how to say it.
Santa knelt down in front of me and tried to catch my eye. “Spit it out, little elf. There’s a what?”
“There’s a problem, Mister Santa, sir. The red nosed reindeer- the new Rudolph – he can’t see.”
Santa stood up and went to the window, the bells on his off-season boots jingling delicately. The snow outside was coming down thick- it looked like we would have a right blizzard by Christmas Eve.
“Can’t see at all?”
I looked down at my feet again. “Completely blind, sir. I… I don’t know what else to do.”
Santa turned around. I glanced up. I had never seen him look so serious.
“Let’s go and see him, shall we?”
We walked out into the snow and crossed to the stables where we’d been keeping the little guy. The door had been left open- it looked like my cousin was in the middle of cleaning it out.
To my surprise, as we approached, a red nose peeked out from the stables, and blind little Rudolph came trotting out. He walked right up to Santa and stopped in front of him, just as if he could see.
Santa looked down at me, then walked away a little bit. Rudolph followed him perfectly.
Santa smiled and let out a great big belly laugh. It bounced through the snow, echoed from the walls, and warmed the very cockles of my heart.
“Well,” said Santa, “If he can’t see, he can certainly hear!”
It was like a light switched on in my head. “Of course,” I cried, “He’s following the sound of your bells!”
Santa nodded as he bent over to pull the bells off his boots. “I’m sure you can work something out,” he said, handing them to me. “Let me know if you need anything else.”
Soon it was Christmas Eve. The sleigh was laden with presents, and the reindeer were all harnessed up. The usual eight, plus our young Rudolph in the front. Everyone had assembled to watch him set off.
The sleigh was a little different this year. I had set up a special rig with bells hanging at the front, ahead of all the reindeer. Three levers had been installed in front of Santa’s seat.
“Middle one for straight ahead, sir,” I told Santa, “Left and right for turning.”
“Excellent,” he said, pulling the middle lever.
The bells at the end of the rig tinkled softly. Rudolph pricked his ears up and took a step forward.
Santa settled down in the seat and waved to his wife and all the elves.
“Now, Dasher! Now, Dancer! Now, Prancer, and Vixen,” he cried. “On, Comet! On, Cupid! On, Donner and Blitzen!”
The elves cheered.
He tinkled the bells and the reindeer set off, dashing across the snow and into the frosty air. By the light of the little blind Rudolph’s nose and the sound of Santa’s bells, they navigated the world, delivered presents to all the good little children, and even got back early.
© Kari Fay