Reindeer and caribou are the same animal (Rangifer tarandus) and are a member of the deer family. In Europe, they are called reindeer, in the United States, the wild ones are called caribou while the domesticated ones are reindeer.
In 1812, author Washington Irving refers to St. Nicholas as riding over tops of trees, in that self-same wagon that he brings presents to children. There is no mention of what propels that said wagon. The first known mention of reindeer was in 1821.
That year, New York printer William Gilley published a sixteen-page booklet titled A New Year’s Present, to the Little Ones from Five to Twelve Number III: The Children’s Friend by an anonymous author. This book introduced reindeer.
Old Santeclaus with much delightA New Year’s Present, to the Little Ones from Five to Twelve Number III: The Children’s Friend – anonymous
His reindeer drives this frosty night.
O’er chimneytops, and tracks of snow,
To bring his yearly gifts to you.
In 1823, the Troy Sentinel published the poem A Visit From St. Nicholas, commonly known as The Night Before Christmas. This poem identified the reindeer by name.
Now! Dasher, now! Dancer, now! Prancer, and Vixen,Unknown
On! Comet, on! Cupid, on! Dunder and Blixem
The writing of this poem has long been debated between Clement Clarke Moore, a theologian, and professor of Middle East and Greek literature, and poet Henry Livingston, Jr. Both have positives, and professors and linguists make good points for each one.
The original names of Dunder and Blixem (Dutch words that translate to thunder and lightning) changed over time to the more well-known spellings of Donder and Blixzen (German for thunder and lightning). In L. Frank Baum’s (Wizard of OZ) story The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus (1902) he lists 10 reindeer. The main ones are Flossie and Glossie and the other 8 are Racer and Pacer, Fearless and Peerless, Ready and Steady, Feckless, and Speckless.
Robert L. May wrote the story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer for the Montgomery Ward chain of department stores in 1939. His glowing red nose is famous for lighting the way in a heavy fog. Saving Christmas he was revered by everyone even the other reindeer.
In Miracle on 34th Street (1947) Kris Kringle talks about his mistakes with the reindeer and even lists all eight, by name, as next of kin. Chuck Berry recorded a 1958 rocker on Chess Records called “Run Rudolph Run”. The 1989 movie “Prancer” is about a little girl who nurses Prancer back to health and gets him back to Santa.
The stop-motion animated TV special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964) produced by Videocraft International, Ltd. (later known as Rankin/Bass Productions) is by far a favorite of young and old. In the TV show, South Park Santa’s Sleigh is shot down over Iraq.
The protagonists go to rescue Santa with the backup team: Steven, Fluffy, Horace, Chantel, Skippy, Rainbow, Patches, and Montel. I also learned that male reindeer lose their antler a=over the winter so technically all of Santa’s reindeer would have to be female.