National Post (National Edition)
Santa’s sleigh pulled by does
THE SCIENCE IS IN: ONLY FEMALES STILL HAVE ANTLERS AROUND CHRISTMAS
Despite the longstanding assumption that Santa’s main form of transportation is a team of burly male reindeer, science says otherwise. It turns out they’re probably females, and while this isn’t necessarily new, it’s something that got a lot of attention last week after a tweet went viral.
Cat Reynolds, a 20-yearold English major at Fordham University in New York, says she was surprised by the attention — and backlash — her tweet about Rudolph and the gang received. In it, she said Santa’s sleigh is “actually pulled by a team of strong, powerful, underrated women.”
“Some men are very angry with me,” she said. “People have responded saying things like, ‘Reindeer don’t even exist just like strong powerful women don’t.’ It’s ridiculous.”
A self-proclaimed feminist, Reynolds says her intention wasn’t to spark a battle, rather she thought it was just a fun tweet that would make people smile.
“When you look at (the tweet) in isolation it doesn’t matter much, but on the broader spectrum it makes you think about how men are always the ones doing things and women are portrayed as just sitting around,” she said. “I mean even Mrs. Claus takes care of Santa Claus.”
Reynolds elaborated in a blog she was asked to write after the tweet went viral, saying “there are flaws in the fact that reindeer have been portrayed as male figures for the past century and a half as well, depriving little girls of the representation they need: empowered female reindeer.” She went on to (somewhat) seriously request a redo of Christmas classics, featuring Rudolph voiced by a woman.
The science behind the gender of Santa’s reindeer rests predominately on the fact that male reindeer don’t have antlers at Christmas. By early December, they’ve been “dropped” — meaning their antlers are shed so that a new set can grow later in the year.
Female reindeer, on the other hand, would have their antlers for the holiday season. Breeding happens in August and September, so females are a few months pregnant around Christmas. Scientists suspect this is why they’ve adapted to keep a tight hold on their antlers.
“Females keep their antlers so they get first dibs on food sources while they’re pregnant,” says Herman Bulten, president of the Alberta Reindeer Association. “This way, they won’t be in competition with the males over scarce winter food.”
But there’s still a slight chance that Santa employed males — castrated males, that is.
“During the breeding season males will fight to the death,” says Herman. “They’re very aggressive, and the only way around that is to castrate them.”
Herman says once a reindeer is castrated, he no longer sheds his antlers, and essentially loses all of his aggressive tendencies. He says this practice is somewhat common, particularly with reindeer used for commercial purposes or as pets.
Research has shown that castrating a male wouldn’t benefit just Santa, but could also help reindeer cope with climate change. As Arctic temperatures warm, snow thaws and then refreezes, meaning a lot of reindeer food is trapped beneath this layer. But if the animal is neutered, they don’t lose their antlers, making it much easier for them to break through the ice and have a tasty meal. The reindeer are also more willing to share their food with calves that might otherwise die of starvation.
Practicality aside, when asked whether there’s any possibility that Rudolph and the gang are non-castrated males, Bulten says “not really.”
“You might get a really docile male, but it’s unlikely.”
According to Brookfield Zoo curator Glenn Granat, Santa’s crew is almost certainly all females.
“Based on all the illustrations of Santa’s reindeer that I’ve seen, they’re females because the males would be much larger,” he said.
There might be another technical issue with the tale of reindeer flying around the world (besides the obvious magic dust that’s required).
While some reindeer migrate (up to nearly 5,000 kilometres), others don’t. Herman says this trait has been selected out of local populations and some reindeer prefer to stay in one area, meaning it would probably be difficult for Santa to convince them to take a 24-hour trip.
The moral of the story according to Bulten?
“Just like with humans, it turns out it’s women who are doing most of the work.”