Not yet? Just wait. Santa’s favorite workhorses are emerging as the latest yuletide upgrade, pushing ugly sweater contests into the “been there, done that” bin. But where do you get access to this bit of living holiday lore? Turns out, it took me 10 seconds on Google to find reindeer for hire an hour from my house. A few minutes later, I was on the line with Jane Bethards of Iowa Reindeer Rental, who confirmed the buzz around her family farm’s latest business angle. “It’s almost getting to where you don’t have an event if you don’t have a reindeer in it,” Jane says. Between every Thanksgiving and Christmas, Jane and her husband, Dave, truck their four reindeer to gigs all over the southern half of Iowa. The jobs have a hard stop on December 23, with the Bethardses explaining to desperate last-minute callers that the reindeer have a longstanding reservation with a client way up north.
During the Christmas window, the four Bethards reindeer—silver, Andy, Woody and, of course, Rudy—play a lot of parking lots. They do photo ops at supermarkets and a few sporting goods stores, where Santa rappels off the roof. The reindeer visit some private homes and star at a party in an apple orchard, where a real estate agent wows clients with a promotional idea that must leave her competitors grumbling over their piles of unwanted, free fridge magnets.
Jane says kids bring predictable questions: Can they really fly? Why aren’t their noses glowing? But even the grown-ups show up with an unexpected sense of wonder. “A lot of adults are surprised to find out that they actually exist,” Jane says.
In fact, humans have a long history with reindeer, including using them to haul actual sleighs in Scandinavia. The Santa connection is relatively recent, with the first mention of reindeer pulling Santa’s ride in 1821. The concept of an entire team with catchy names first appeared in the famous 1823 poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas.” (You may know it as “’Twas the Night Before Christmas.”) Rudolph debuted in 1939, when Chicago’s Montgomery Ward stores gave kids a book featuring his story.
If you decide your holiday demands the magic that only sub-arctic livestock can inject, book early. And know that if your local reindeer are anything like Jane and Dave’s, they travel with amenities straight out of a rock star’s contract. They rarely take gigs more than two hours from the farm. They consume only food and water they bring along. And they spend every night at home. Maybe that sounds demanding. But before you label the reindeer as divas, remember that after all those appearances, they still have to fly around an entire planet on Christmas Eve.
“A LOT OF ADULTS ARE SURPRISED TO FIND OUT THAT THEY ACTUALLY EXIST,” JANE SAYS.