Reindeers of the North — and the Holiday Season!

Reindeer, or caribou as they are known as in North America, are the animal most associated with the Christmas season!

They have a long history in the daily life of the cold northern areas of the globe as well as with the holiday season!

Santa Claus and seven of his reindeer in a parade.  Photo: Creative Commons


    These animals are found in the northern areas of northern Europe, Siberia, and North America.

The name reindeer comes from the old Norse language, and of course reindeer were found in Norway.

There are many different species of reindeer. Some like the barren tundra, and others live in forests.


All kinds sport the notable horns or antlers, in different sizes and shapes, depending on the kind of animal and the sex.

Both males and females grow the antlers, but the males tend to be larger.

Antlers grow quickly, and are spongey in texture.

They are covered with a velvety fluff. When the antler is grown, it hardens and the fluffy surface rubs off.

Male antlers fall off in the spring, and the females lose theirs in the summer.

Reindeer have two layers in their coats. A wooly undercoat is the bottom layer closest to the skin.

On top of that is a coarse longer hair overcoat, made of hairs that are hollow and insulate the animal.

Hooves of these animals adapt to the season. In the warm months the hooves are softer and spongier, better for walking on grasses and in wetlands.

In the winter, the hooves firm up and seem to dry out, so that traction on ice is easier.

Reindeer also scratch and forage with these firmer winter hooves.


Here is a reindeer sled, Arkhangelsk, Russia. Late nineteenth-century.

One interesting thing about reindeer is that their knees click when they walk! The tendons of the knees make a sound as they slip across bones and tissue.


The reindeer’s relationship with man has been to provide food as well as for transportation.

The reindeer has a huge place in the history of hunting. Reindeer have also been kept as a domesticated animal for milk and meat.

Milking reindeer in the 19th century

In many very cold areas, caribou meat is dried and used throughout the winter.

Also, the blood of caribou has been drunk as a remedy for the cold! Reindeer pulling sled in Russia.  Photo: Elen Schurova from Moscow, Russia

The reindeer is so important that in many areas their images have adapted to flags, stamps and coats of arms.

And how would Santa deliver gifts without them?

HAPPY HOLIDAYS from us at Map of the Month/ Maps for the Classroom.