The reindeer’s association with Santa’s sleigh began with Clement C. Moore's famous poem, Twas the Night before Christmas, written in late 1824. Rudolph became a fixture in American culture and a member of Santa’s herd in 1939 when ad copywriter Robert L. May wrote a children’s poem for US retailer Montgomery Ward entitled Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Later in 1947 May’s brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, adapted the poem and wrote accompanying music. The song reached the top of the charts at Christmas 1949, when it was performed by US cowboy singer Gene Autry.
But the reindeer's story begins far earlier than those fanciful American poems and songs. There are many prehistoric references to the reindeer or caribou, as it is sometimes known, in cave art throughout Europe and Asia. Many of these paintings show the reindeer soaring through the air and anthropologists theorize that the animal was seen as something of a spirit guide or guide of the soul to the heavens.
As time went on the reindeer became more generally associated with travel and more specifically, life changing journeys. As the furthest travelers in the deer clan, reindeer can migrate as far as 3000 miles in one season. They battle terrific adversity throughout their journeys – brutal climates, the constant attack of fleas and pests, and near starvation. For this reason they've become associated with triumph over adversity and the perseverance of the spirit.