Wednesday, December 20, 2006


Donder. Not Donner, DONDER.

“You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen;
Comet and Cupid and DONDER and Blitzen…”

Ah yes, it’s that time of year again. Those of you who know me well are rolling your eyes and saying “oh no, not the reindeer thing again.”

Yes, the reindeer thing again. If I can educate just ONE person each year about the correct names of Santa’s eight reindeer, my work here will be done.

I had a post half-typed up about this when I realized that I’ve done all this before. Why reinvent the wheel when I can just cut and paste my post from last year? I wrote:

As you might know, my last name is Donders. As such, it has been my lifelong quest to set the record straight and right the wrongs entrenched by Johnny Marks and Gene Autry.

Here’s a little history lesson for you. The poem “A Visit From St Nicholas”, commonly known as “The Night Before Christmas”, was written back in 1823 and is generally attributed to American poet Clement Clarke Moore (although there have been recent arguments that the poem was in fact written by his contemporary Henry Livingston Jr.)

The original poem reads, in part:

More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name.

"Now Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on, Cupid! on Dunder and Blixem!

As explained on the Donder Home Page (no relation):

In the original publication of "A Visit from St. Nicholas" in 1823 in the Troy Sentinel "Dunder and Blixem" are listed as the last two reindeer. These are very close to the Dutch words for thunder and lightning, "Donder and Bliksem". Blixem is an alternative spelling for Bliksem, but Dunder is not an alternative spelling for Donder. It is likely that the word "Dunder" was a misprint. Blitzen's true name, then, might actually have been "Bliksem".

In 1994, the Washington Post delved into the matter (sorry for the noisy link – it’s the only copy I could find online) by sending a reporter to the Library of Congress to reference the source material.

We were successful. In fact, Library of Congress reference librarian David Kresh described Donner/Donder as "a fairly open-and-shut case." As we marshaled the evidence near Alcove 7 in the Library's Main Reading Room a few days ago, it quickly became clear that Clement Clarke Moore, author of "A Visit from St. Nicholas," wanted to call him (or her?) "Donder." Never mind that editors didn't always cooperate.
Further confirmation came quickly. In "The Annotated Night Before Christmas," which discusses the poem in an elegantly illustrated modern presentation, editor Martin Gardner notes that the "Troy Sentinel" used "Dunder", but dismisses this as a typo. Gardner cites the 1844 spelling as definitive, but also found that Moore wrote "Donder" in a longhand rendering of the poem penned the year before he died: "That pretty well sews it up," concluded Kresh.

So there you have it. This Christmas season, make sure you give proper credit to Santa’s seventh reindeer.

On DONDER and Blitzen. It’s a matter of family pride