You know how sometimes you make up a small lie and justify it because it serves a good cause? This is not one of those times. Perhaps the cause was good, but the lie was definitely not small. This is a story about how I made up an entire Christmas legend out of whole cloth, just to win an argument with my dad.
My father likes to have these “contests” where he emails my kids questions, and they can answer them for a prize. He’s actually kind of well-known as the family “Game Master.” Until this year, he ran popular Annual Christmas Game Contest (ACGC) filled with almost any kind of Christmas trivia you can imagine. It had some good prizes too.
After the 9th annual contest, he decided to call it quits. He’s not quite ready to hang up his Game Master hat, though. Hence, the questions for my kids. His last email contained these questions:
1) What was the name of John the Baptist’s mother?
2) In what town was Jesus born?
3) How many caribou will be traveling all over the world after midnight of December 24th if it is NOT foggy anywhere in the world?
4) What is the name of the period leading up to Christmas?
5) Who woke up and saw the Grinch stealing the Christmas tree?
For the record, my kids knew just about all of those answers without any help. They’re smart kids, if I do say so myself. But they got stuck on number 3. They didn’t even notice the word “caribou.” They immediately jumped in with “8!”
But I had to go and ruin it for them. I said, “No, Grandpa’s trying to trick you. See there? It doesn’t say ‘reindeer,’ it says ‘caribou.'” On my advice, they answered that there would be 8 reindeer traveling the world, but zero caribou.
Now, I should back up a bit. It helps if you know that my dad is well-known for asking trick questions. Regularly, in the ACGC, he’d throw out a question like “Do you know the color of Santa’s suit?” If you answered “red,” he’d come back with, “Aha! I said, Do you know! The answer was either yes or no!”
So naturally, I assumed he was trying to trick his young grandchildren with this “caribou” nonsense. Unfortunately, I was wrong. Well, sort of wrong. I was right, but in the wrong direction. It turns out that reindeer are caribou. How was I supposed to know that? (Yes, yes, I know that Google exists. Sheesh!)
I couldn’t let my kids miss out on their prize because of my mistake. I had to think fast. So, sitting at my computer, I tapped out what was supposed to be a quick story. It turned into a folk tale about how Santa met his reindeer, the sole purpose of which was to explain that these were special reindeer who were NOT caribou.
Here’s the story! I’m adding it to my arsenal of Christmas lore.
It’s well-known that Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donder, and Blitzen all originated from the subspecies Finnish forest reindeer.
After his imprisonment in Myra by the Roman Emperor Diocletian, St. Nicholas is said to have escaped north. He travelled through Russia and Finland before finally settling in the North Pole. In Finland, St. Nicholas, who was growing rather old and tired as he grew his famous white beard and put on the extra pounds that he would one day be known for, had to stop and rest.
He’d become sick and weary on his long journey, and it took him several months to recover. Disguised as a poor day laborer, he took work in a reindeer stable operated by a kindly farmer. Because he was so sick and weak, he was unable to do much more than feed the reindeer and sweep out the stalls, but the farmer could tell there was something special about him, so he took pity on him and gave him room and board for only a few hours of work each day.
During his time in the stables, St. Nicholas grew fond of several of the reindeer, including a female whom he named Draxamedes. Draxamedes was pregnant with a rather large litter of male reindeer, eight in all. This was extremely unusual, and nobody, including the kindly farmer, expected the doe or her litter to survive. The farmer had written her off, and was prepared to euthanize her, but Nicholas convinced him to let him nurse her to health.
The day came when Draxamedes was to give birth to her litter. She was in tremendous pain and on the verge of death, but St. Nicholas, who’d been blessed by God with the power to bring joy and peace to others, simply touched her womb, and the young reindeer were born successfully surrounded by white sparkling lights. It was truly a miracle!
It is said that St. Nicholas’s magic transformed those reindeer from the simple Finnish forest variety from which their mother came, into a magical species unrelated to any existing species on Earth.
The kindly farmer was so grateful to Nicholas for saving his reindeer, that he gave the babies to him as a gift. Once they grew strong enough to travel, and Nicholas recovered from his sickness, St. Nicholas took the eight magical reindeer and continued to travel North. They eventually settled in the North Pole, where they met a magical family of elves.
I believe you know the rest of the story.