The ability of reindeer to transport Santa across the sky on Christmas Eve is one of the essential features of the Christmas story. But apart from Rudolf and his red nose, details on Santa's reindeer are scarce. Their selection, training and relationship with Mr Claus receive little mention in the traditional tales of Christmas. A primary 1 class filled in some of the gaps.
What characteristics does Santa look for in his reindeer? They have to be fit because they have got to travel a long way. A reindeer would have to be healthy and be able to fly and not be lazy. He'd have to be good at walking and running and strong to pull Santa because Santa is really fat, he eats a lot. Reindeer have to be good at standing on things because sometimes they stand on people's roofs and it would be hard to do.
Navigational skills are another feature. A successful reindeer has to be good at knowing where all the places are. He'd have to look at and read Santa's special map. He needs to know how to get to the boys' and girls' houses.
Having chosen reindeer with the requisite characteristics, what type of training does Santa offer his reindeer? They practise flying a lot and putting on their things. They practise how to get to everybody's house. They need to use a special map to find all the houses. They have to learn about it.
As one would expect, the training programme for young reindeer to become a member of the elite flying reindeer corps is a long and arduous one. They have ears like little buffalo. They put them up and down and it makes them fly. Baby reindeer have to practise and practise flapping their ears before they are able to fly.
As with many airborne careers, simulated flying lessons allow training accidents to be much less costly. The Mums and Dads show the baby reindeer how to fly. They have to pull a pretend sleigh with a pretend Santa. If it crashes it doesn't matter because it's only pretend.
Age is an important feature. The apprenticeship is a long one, equal in years to the age children traditionally start school. They are five years old before they get to pull the real sleigh.
While they wait, a number of ground-based skills can be tackled by aspiring flying reindeer. When the reindeer are little, they don't know where to go and they are not strong enough. They stay at home and wrap presents. The little reindeer write all the names on the presents so that the big reindeer know whose house they have to go to.
Some felt that ground staff were also responsible for supplies necessary for the successful completion of the trip. They'd have to pack food and drink, milk and grass and carrots. They need quite a lot of food because they have to travel all around the world. However, others felt that such supplies would be provided en route because they get juice and cake and carrots from the girls and boys.
The actual Christmas delivery appears to have something of a ceremonial quality to it with the reindeer intent on appearing their best. They have to look nice. They have to get all ready. They get all the toys in Santa's sack. They have to get all cleaned up for their trip to deliver the presents.
Rudolf's nose merits special attention in the reindeer livery. They have to make Rudolf's nose all shiny. Santa cleans Rudolf's nose with a cloth, and a wee bit of soap and water. Rudolf's red nose is explained by his relative youth. His nose is redder than the others because he never goes down the chimney so it never goes black. Rudolf is the youngest reindeer. All the other reindeer used to have shiny noses before they went down the chimney and got dirty and it covered the red.
Suggestions for names that Santa could call his reindeer further identified their individual characteristics. Flapper would be a good name for a reindeer because he has to flap his ears to fly. Black Ben because he has a black nose. Tip Toe because they need to tip toe on the roof in case the children hear them. They have to be very quiet and Tip Toe would be a good name for one of the quiet reindeer.
Team discipline is essential to the success of the reindeer trip. Reindeer have to be good and stop when Santa tells them to stop. They have to do what Santa says.
Stealth also depends on team discipline and a noisy group of reindeer will face problems. They have to make no noise when they are flying. They have to be very quiet or they'll wake up the children. If children do hear the reindeer then they just disappear because they'd lose their magic. There'd just be glitter left when they disappeared.
Santa has a number of options to deal with misbehaviour among his flying corps. He could send the bad one home or make another reindeer by magic. Santa could take him in the sleigh and can make sure that he doesn't do anything bad again.
Santa it seems is able to literally ground his reindeer. He won't be allowed to fly with the other reindeer for a long time or maybe until his birthday comes round.
For those reindeer who are unwell, Santa appears to offer some form of health care. Contemporary developments in reindeer health care can be monitored through television. Santa has his own vet. He can look after the reindeer and put them in cages until they're better. The vet might watch Animal Hospital so he knows what to do when he's looking after the reindeer.
Elderly reindeer would find the physical demands of the position too much. An old reindeer would get tired very easily and might fall in the night time. He wouldn't be able to keep up with the others.
Fortunately Santa appears to have a conscience and an elderly reindeer has a happy future to look forward to. Reindeer ragout is not on Santa's menu. An old reindeer will retire and go in the woods. He would stay and rest and watch television about Santa and the new reindeer.
Not a bad life really.
Ally Budge is a primary teacher in Caithness.