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German Myth 5

The Reindeer Donner and Blitzen

Two of Santa's reindeer are named
Donner and Blitzen, or are they?

German Misnomers, Myths, Mistakes > Donner and Blitzen

Thunder and Lightning
Christmas is a source of many legends. If you ask the average American to name Santa's reindeer (eight in all?), the first name to pop up will probably be Rudolph (the Red-Nosed Reindeer). The next two would no doubt be Donner and Blitzen.

But is this correct? Where did these names come from?

The popular Christmas ditty “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” was a 1949 hit tune sung and recorded by Gene Autry and based on a character originally created by a marketing team for Montgomery Ward in 1939. The lyrics were written by Johnny Marks, who borrowed most of the reindeer names from the classic 1823 poem “A Visit from Saint Nicholas” (more commonly known as “Twas the Night before Christmas”) by Henry Livingston, Jr. (Clement Clarke Moore got credit for the poem, but he probably was not the author. But that's another story.) The original poem refers to “eight tiny reindeer” (Rudolph actually makes it nine tiny reindeer) and gives them each a name: “Now Dasher! now, Dancer! now Prancer and Vixen!/On, Comet! on, Cupid! on Dunder and Blixem!”

"Dunder" and "Blixem"? You've always heard "Donner" and "Blitzen," right? The former were Dutch names written into the poem by Livingston. Only in later versions, modified by Moore in 1844, were the two names changed to German: Donder (close to Donner, thunder) and Blitzen (lightning), to better rhyme with "Vixen." Finally, for some reason, in the song “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” Marks turned "Donder" into "Donner." Whether Marks made the change because he knew German or because it just sounded better is uncertain.* In any event, there is certainly some logic in using German Donner and Blitzen (thunder and lightning) for the names. Since 1950 or so, the two reindeer names have been Donner and Blitzen in both the “Rudolph” song and the “Visit” poem.

Yes, Virginia, there IS a Santa Claus, and he has eight, no nine, reindeer named...

POEM > “The Night Before Christmas” in German and English
LYRICS > “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” in German and English

Also see this German Christmas myth: The German Christmas Pickle

MORE > German Myths Intro > Previous | Next

WEB > The Donner Party's Over - 'Donner' and 'Blitzen' (Snopes.com)
WEB > The Donder Home Page - The name is 'Donder'

*Marks was not the first to make the "Donner" name change. The Snopes page cites a 1926 New York Times article that specifically mentions the switch from the Dutch names to German "Donner and Blitzen." As early as 1906 the Times published a version of the "Visit" poem that also used the German names.

German Misnomers, Myths and Mistakes
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