In defense of Donder

“Oh no,” lament the bloggy peeps who have been around for a while. “Not the reindeer thing again!”

Why yes, as a matter of fact. It’s the reindeer thing again. If I can educate one misinformed soul every year about the correct names of Santa’s reindeer, my mission will be a success. (Besides, I’m in Toronto at a conference as you read this and hard up for fresh material and bloggable time. So, please accept this repeat post dredged up from last year with my gracious apologies.) Now, where were we? Oh yes, the reindeer thing…

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

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. (Or, for more fun with the true meaning of Donder, you can read this post from the archives, too!)

Author: DaniGirl

Canadian. storyteller, photographer, mom to 3. Professional dilettante.

7 thoughts on “In defense of Donder”

  1. Dani, you’ll be pleased to know that ever since I read your post on this last year I’ve been saying and singing Donder rather than Donner.

    Now Donner just makes me think of that ill-fated party.

  2. Isn’t there some saying about beating a dead reindeer????

    Personally, for the longest time I thought it was ‘On Flasher’, which created some scary mental images and it took years of therapy before I got the courage to look at the jolly guy in the red suit without cringing.

    By the way, I still think Olive (you know, the other reindeer) should get more attention…..

  3. One of my favourite christmas songs (soon to be ruined forever as it is now featured in this year’s Sears holiday commercials) is Donna and Blitzen by Badly Drawn Boy.

    Which, really, has little relevance to this post, except all the talk of Donder vs Donner made me think of the song, which then made me hum it, and now it’s stuck in my head…

    Which is not a bad thing. There are much worse songs that could be stuck in my head. Like the latest offering from Britney Spears.

    Oh crap…

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