Say what you will about reindeer (Rangifer tarandus, trans. ‘No, my nose doesn’t light up, that’s someone else’), there’s no denying that they are the rare mythical creature that actually turns out to be real.1 They consist of six wild subspecies that can be found in Siberia and Norway, as well as Greenland, Alaska and Canada, where they call themselves caribou (a French version of the Mi’kmaq word qalipu, meaning ‘snow-shoveler,’ a dismissive reference to the reindeer’s embarrassing habit of pawing through the snow for food). But though reindeer are indeed very, very real, the vast majority do not lead glamorous lives of working one night out of the year and then spending the remaining 364 days relaxing by Santa’s pool while being generally mythologized by an adoring public. Instead, most reindeer spend their time looking for lichen to eat, migrating constantly, and working catering jobs to make ends meet and pay for their acting and flying classes.
More fruscetta, sir?
Choosing to become a reindeer is to choose a hard life of being prey for wolves, having four stomachs, possessing the second-largest set of antlers after the moose, and being a popular meat in Scandinavian countries. Of all the terrestrial animals, reindeer travel the farthest, making vast, massive migrations over thousands of miles between forest areas in the winter (to look for lichen) and their calving grounds in the spring. Along the way, the average reindeer will take 50 or 60 auditions and land not a single role.
Let me send you my headshot.
So why do it? Because the passion that burns inside these aspiring sleigh-pullers keeps them from just settling into a career in insurance sales. Reindeer are driven to constantly pursue a chance to audition for Santa’s sleigh one day. It’s a long shot, but the rewards are immense. And so reindeer continue having four stomachs, practicing their accents and stage-fighting skills, doing odd bartending jobs and working at coffee shops, chasing a dream.
I only do this job because I heard Mrs. Claus sometimes meets here with her book club.
Competition for a sleigh-pulling job is fierce, with every reindeer going out for the same jobs all the time. Even the females get antlers, which is indicative of the pressure to be the ‘perfect’ reindeer (and to find lichen under snow).
Compounding the fact that pretty much every single reindeer aspires to someday pull Santa’s sleigh is the simple reality that those jobs open up infrequently. The last addition to the Team was in 1939, when Rudolph was added, but that had far more to do with his bizarre genetic condition. Also his uncle made a few calls on his behalf. So most reindeer are left to migrate constantly and eat lichen. They do have a union, but every time it seems like there might actually be a strike, Prancer and Donner take out an ad in Variety accusing the union leadership of being unreasonable, and soon enough they’ll get a whole bunch of reindeer who haven’t done anything other than temp jobs in years to vote against a strike. Eventually many reindeer give up and end up domesticated in Russia, Scandinavia, or Iceland. A few more join petting zoos. Most, it seems, spend a lot of their time trying to guilt you into coming to their one-reindeer shows.
It’s Tuesday at 6:30 pm during rush hour in the middle of downtown. Tickets are $25. See you there.
But even as we try to figure out how to get out of seeing their plays, and even as you really, really wish that every reindeer you meet would just stop talking about his or her ‘craft’ all the time, you still respect them for hanging in there and going for what they want, even when pretty much any other animal would hang it up and go back to law school.
1 The other is the Grendel.