REIN­DEER GAMES

Midwest Living - - Contents - Trevor Meers Edi­tor @trevormeers

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.

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