White Paper on Santa's Reindeer
By Ron Huza
My nephew Jamie lives in Greenville, North Carolina. He's 9 years old. I live in Montreal, Canada. I'm 49 years old. Jamie looks up to me as someone who knows a lot. I guess because I had lived in Japan for 10 years. He also figures I am an expert authority on Santa Claus— as Montreal, by his reckoning, is situated in the North Pole's back yard.
"Uncle Ron, can you help me on my Class Christmas
Project?" he asked, in a way that was not really a question.
"Of course, Jamie. What's it on?"
"My topic is Santa's Reindeers," he said. "I want to get a gold star."
Jamie is just like his father. He's an I-want-it-yesterday kind of guy. So I went to work at once, surfing the Internet for sites that could be useful. I thought it best to give Jamie progress reports early and often. My first e-mail contained the following information:
1. Santa has 9 reindeers in all.
2. Their names are Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixon, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blixon, and Rudolph.
3. The reindeers mostly eat carrots.
4. Rudolph is Santa's favorite.
I thought it was a decent first go at the assignment.
But Jamie was not impressed.
"Uncle Ron, everybody knows that stuff," he sniffed. "Miss Catherine said she'll only give out gold stars for projects that teach her something new." That was the first I ever heard of Miss Catherine, and already I hated her. She probably had a Ph.D. in Christmas Reindeerology. Plus, she struck me as a Gold Star Sticker hoarder, my least favorite kind of teacher.
I tried a few other angles. Jamie wasn't interested in the Great "Is it Donner or Donder?" Name Debate among Santa Reindeer scholars. Nor did he care to teach his classmates the names of the reindeers in other languages. Somehow Jamie had this uncanny sixth sense regarding appropriate "Gold Star" Project Ideas, and he was beginning to suspect that his "real smart" uncle living in Santa's back yard was actually quite clueless.
Now, what would you do if you were in my shoes? Well,
I'll tell you. First, you'd hand out pink slips to your entire search
engine support staff. Google et al—good-bye! Then you'd start making
stuff up. Hey, the teacher with the Gold Stars makes the Golden Rule.
She wants "new"? You give her "new".
I asked Jamie if the kids in North Carolina were aware that the names of Santa's Reindeers are not actually their original names. I told him it's a well-known fact up here in Snow Country that Santa only gave them these names after the world's second Christmas. On their very first outing, the reindeers answered to different names.
Just like that, we had the beginnings of a project. A potential Gold Star project! Jamie, of course, wanted to know Santa's Reindeers' original names. "Yes, I'm checking into it," I fibbed. "There's an old man nearby who says he has a book from his great-grandfather that lists all of Santa's Reindeers' previous names. He promised to lend me the book."
I had bought myself a little time. And, believe me, with Jamie I needed it. Jamie never outgrew The "Why?" Phase of Life. And so not surprisingly, he is totally annoyed when a thing you tell him doesn't make sense. To this day, he still holds a grudge against the letter 'W'. He says he just can't understand why we call it "Double-U" when it is clearly written "Double-V". So to satisfy Jamie's Vulcan-like intellect, not only would I have to come up with a credible Santa's Reindeers Original Names' List. I'd also have to provide a rationale for Santa's decision to change all his reindeers' names, back when Christmas was only two years old.
"Those weren't their real names, Uncle Ron!"
said Jamie, after I had read him my list.
"Yes, I got it straight from the book," I answered. "That's what the reindeers were called before Santa's Renaming Ceremony."
"Can you tell me them again?" Jamie asked.
"Okay," I said. "On the very first Christmas, Santa's reindeers were called Boomer and Zinger and Din and Flatus and Thunder and Haze and Reek and Puttz and Piuu."
"Is that really true, Uncle Ron?" said Jamie. "They don't sound like reindeer names to me."
That's what I love about my nephew Jamie. He has heard
only 9 proper reindeer names in his entire life, and he's already an international
expert on the subject. So to make my claim believable to him, I was forced
to prepare a thoroughly documented White Paper.
This is what I wrote:
Once upon a time, on the eve of the world's first Christmas Day, Santa's reindeers asked if they could each be given a name. "All the elves have names", they argued. "Why not us?" It sounded to Santa like a reasonable request. But he said he was too busy overseeing the packing of the sleigh. He promised to name them all later as they journeyed across the evening sky. So the reindeers were actually the first ones in the world to receive a Christmas gift from Santa. And just like kids everywhere, they couldn't wait to find out what presents they would receive.
Even on that first Christmas, Santa's plan was to visit all the world's children. This meant that the reindeers had to travel fast. In their trial runs, they never traveled at top speed. But now on The Big Night, they went all out. The reindeers soon found it difficult to breathe while traveling so fast. As soon as they opened their mouths to inhale, a huge gust of wind would rush inside the opening, blowing them up like balloons. Then when they tried to exhale, the rush of incoming air sealed off their own breaths' escape route.
Santa quickly realized he had a problem on his hands. The trapped air that was steadily building up inside his reindeers had to find an alternate escape route, or else they would explode! Sitting downwind of his reindeers, Santa didn't have to guess what solution they would come up with... He experienced it as a physically felt thing—a loud, non-stop, and incredibly potent form of reindeer second hand flatulence (Jamie: "What's 'Second Hand Flatulence'?" you ask. It's what your father makes after he says, "Pull my finger").
Not only had Santa promised to name each reindeer during the inaugural Christmas flight. He also promised to name them according to their special qualities. What would You name a herd of pooting reindeers? Santa named them Boomer and Zinger and Din and Flatus and Thunder and Haze and Reek and Puttz and Piuu.
Things quickly went from bad to worse. When Santa landed his sleigh at the first house on his run, his reindeers were still tooting to beat the band. Remember, the world back then was much quieter at night than it is today. After 10 p.m. in most houses, you could hear a pin drop. You might not hear a sleigh landing on a snow-covered roof— especially with Santa holding the reins. But nine reindeers pooting up a storm just above your rafters? That is not a commotion that any person back then was likely to sleep through.
Also please remember, Christmas technically didn't exist yet. December 25th was just another day on the twelve-month calendar. So when the house owner at Santa's first stop rushed outdoors to see what the ruckus was all about, he wasn't exactly in a festive state of mind. Glancing up at his roof, what he saw was a robbery attempt by a herd of foul-smelling reindeer. That, plus a fat man in a red suit who was attempting to sneak down his chimney with a big sack of burglary tools.
Needless to say, there were no milk and cookies for Santa that night. It was more like sticks and stones and cries of "Beat it, Fatso!" Every stop became a carbon copy of the one before… the reindeers' rooftop rendition of "Pa-rum-pum-pum-pum"…the irate home owner's violent response …Santa's hasty retreat. The night was so dispiriting, Santa didn't even utter a single "Ho!"
Then, of course, there were the elves to deal with. They had toiled all year to transform a single Winter's night into a thing of world-wide wonder. Santa knew they would have stayed up all night, anxiously awaiting his return. Indeed, what a loud joyous cheer rang out when the assembled elves caught their first glimpse of Santa's returning sleigh. As the sleigh drew nearer, a few elves remarked that the sleigh was flying unusually low. "An empty sleigh shouldn't be flying so close to the ground," someone observed. Imagine how heart-broken the elves felt when they discovered that Santa's sleigh had returned exactly as it had left. Not a single Christmas present had been handed out!
"What happened?" said Ceo, the head elf. "You
didn't give out one gift!"
"We encountered a number of unexpected issues," said Santa, looking glum.
"Issues?" said Ceo. "What issues?"
"Issues that portrayed our mission in a way that provoked a hostile reaction."
"Santa, could you talk in plain English?" said Ceo. "I can't follow a word you're saying."
"The reindeers came down with severe intestinal gas," said Santa. "Nobody wanted to have anything to do with us."
Just then, the assembled elves got a good whiff of what
Santa was talking about. A sudden blast of arctic air carried clear evidence
of the reindeers' lamentable condition far and wide. It was breathtakingly
awful. "Ewww!" said Ceo, covering his nose. Then, after his
head cleared, his face turned beet red. "Fire the reindeers!"
he yelled. "Fire every stinking last one of them!"
"Now calm down, Ceo," said Santa. "It wasn't their fault."
"Didn't you just get a whiff of that?" said Ceo." OF COURSE IT"S THEIR FAULT!…Look, all we asked is that for one night, the reindeers put a muzzle on their animal nature... But no, they had to behave like savage beasts. They ruined Christmas for everyone, Santa!"
"It was a freak accident," said Santa. "Gas happens."
"Not like that it doesn't," countered Ceo. "That's totally unnatural—even for a beast. They must have taken performance-enhancing drugs. Excess gas is a common side effect of many pharmaceutical products, you know."
"Ceo," said Santa. "Mrs. Claus is the only one with a key to the medicine cabinet. I can assure you that the reindeers were not on drugs."
"Well then," said Ceo, "They should have paid closer attention to their diet. Carrots are rich in fiber. And fiber causes gas. You've heard the old saying, 'You are what you eat'."
"It wasn't the carrots," said Santa. "It was the air. The reindeer OD'd on air! Flying as fast as they did, they simply inhaled air at a quicker rate than they could expel it orally. So the excess air was forced to exit through the rear. That's nature's way—even for elves."
Eventually, Ceo and the rest of the elves took pity on
the reindeers, especially after Boomer apologized for their behavior.
"We all wanted to make a good first impression," Boomer said.
"And now look, the whole world is of the opinion that Christmas stinks."
"We'll fix that!" Ceo promised.
Ceo quickly set up what he called a Skunk Works team, a small group of elves with above-average problem-solving skills. They quickly determined that a solution to the flatulence problem was to change the way the reindeers breathe when flying at elevated speeds. If they could be taught to breathe through their ears, instead of their mouth and nose, they wouldn't take in so much excess air.
In less than nine months, the proposed solution was tried, tested, and proven true. "Christmas is saved!" declared Ceo. Santa, while pleased, sounded a cautious note. "Listen up, everybody," Santa said. "We only have one chance to get this right. One more foul-up, and Christmas is history. And that means no carols, no mistletoe, no tree decorating, and no exchanging presents. I don't want December 25th to be just another cold winter day that people have to slog through. So there's work to be done."
Santa declared a policy of Zero Tolerance for any future
incidents of Christmas Eve Reindeer Flatulence. He said he was pleased
with the results of the new In-flight Breathing Program. But he wanted
Ceo to devise an emergency back up system. "I want to have something
to fall back on just in case," Santa explained.
"It's done!" said Ceo, two months later.
"What's that?" said Santa, pointing to a square-shaped object under Ceo's arm.
"It's what you asked for," said Ceo. "A reindeer flatulence control device. At the lab, we call it the GasBGon unit."
"It looks like an ordinary seat cushion to me," said Santa.
"Oh, but there's nothing ordinary about it," said Ceo. "Here, take a look." He flipped the cushion over and unzipped its cover. Then, he carefully removed the cushion's interior components for Santa to see.
"What's that white layer on the top?" asked Santa.
"That's acoustical foam," said Ceo. "As you know, flatulence has two main components: a sound component, and a smell component. The layer of acoustical foam you see here is sufficiently thick to muffle the sound of a flatulence outburst."
"Amazing!" said Santa. "And what is that black pad?"
"That's our carbon filter, Santa," said Ceo. "All smells are essentially made up of gas molecules. And the grade of carbon we selected is particularly effective against the type of gases associated with flatulence. Think of it as a magic Odor Sink. It quickly flushes away all the odors that come into it."
"My, I am impressed!'' said Santa. "Why, this even tops your mechanical bird invention. But I notice that there is no mechanical device to draw the odors into the cushion…"
"It isn't necessary," said Ceo. "See, the speed at which a flatulence outburst travels is sufficient to propel the gas through the pores of the acoustical foam and into the carbon."
"I get it," said Santa. "But are they meant to be strapped on? Don't you think Santa's image would suffer if I were seen being pulled through the sky by nine reindeers with cushions attached to their rumps?"
"Oh, Santa! You break me up!" said Ceo, laughing. "No, they're not meant to be worn. They're meant to be sat upon. So while you're doing your chimney thing, the reindeers can rest their posteriors on the dual-action filter cushions and stay out of trouble."
"They're that good, eh?" said Santa. "You know, I wouldn't mind having one myself."
"It's already on your wife's Christmas Wish List, Santa," said Ceo, flashing a thumb's up.
So, Christmas as we know it today only actually began in its second year. That time, everything went off without a hitch. Nobody heard a peep out of the reindeers. Santa was able to distribute every last one of the elves' gifts. And a wonderful, timeless Christmas tradition was born.
Use of the GasBGon filter-seat cushions completely eliminated the issue of reindeer-induced pandemonium. Consequently, the reindeers' original names no longer applied. In a solemn Name-Changing Ceremony, Santa conferred upon each of his reindeer the names they are known by today: Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixon, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen, and, Rudolf… And yes, they are continuing to live happily ever after.
I'm happy to report that Jamie did receive his coveted Gold Star. However, it had nothing to do with my White Paper. Jamie's mother was by his side when he read it.
"So what do you think?" she asked him when he was through reading.
"I think my Uncle Ron is crazy," said Jamie. "Can we ask Uncle Mark to help me with my project?"
And that's what happened. I believe Jamie's project was entitled, "Why Rudolph's Nose Is Red". It must have taught Miss Catherine something new. Because like I just told you, it earned Jamie a Gold Star. So listen. If you require a research assistant for a major school project, please contact my brother Mark.
© Ron Huza 2002
Ron Huza is a Montreal technical writer who specializes in the origins of "cutting edge" technological innovations. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org