You know…Dasher, Dancer, and all of the others.
But, do you recall…that you’ve been saying a few of them wrong? You’re not alone if you answer no.
In fact, we all have been for quite some time, it turns out. It all goes back to the original poem.
Depending on when and where you went to grade school, you may have had to recite the poem or even sing it. Who could forget something that begins with such a strange contraction like T’was?
“A Visit from Saint Nicholas,” which you may know more commonly as “The Night Before Christmas” was released in 1823 in an issue of the Troy Sentinel newspaper in New York.
If you ever get to view the original manuscript of the poem, you will see two very different reindeer names from the ones we all grew up with: Dunder and Blixem.
Dunder, which some may associate with the first half of a name of a fictional paper company, is actually a Dutch word that means a sound like thunder. Blixem is a little more complicated but appears to be a phonetic spelling of the Dutch word Bliksem.
It makes sense because if you put them both together you get Thunder and Lightning
Interestingly enough, in Afrikaans, the language spoken in South Africa, which is derived from Dutch, Bliksem is now considered a swear word. They use Weerlig instead when talking about lightning, and not trying to insult someone.
Back to the poem. When it was submitted to that Troy, New York newspaper in 1823, it was submitted anonymously. In 1836, it was finally attributed to Professor of Divinity, Biblical Learning, Oriental and Greek Literature, Clement Clarke Moore.
Moore, whose farm and homestead currently make up the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City, neither confirmed nor denied authorship of the poem. At least in the beginning.
He eventually took credit, and the famous Christmas poem was included in an anthology of his poetry that was published 21 years later. In recent years though, a debate began as to who actually wrote the poem.
Several scholars attribute the poem to Henry Livingston Jr., a Major in the Revolutionary War, who was also a poet and artist of Dutch and Scottish heritage. Livingston’s family had always believed he had penned the poem.
In fact, it wasn’t until after Livingston’s death that the poem was attributed to Moore. Livingston also happened to be a distant relative of Moore’s wife.
Some of the supporting evidence for Livingston being the author includes his Dutch and Scottish heritage, which made him more likely to know the words Dunder and Blixem, as well as his description of Santa Claus, which was in line with Dutch and Scandinavian tradition.
So, you’re probably asking, “I don’t care, why have I been saying the wrong names? When did that happen?” Well, that happened back in 1823 when the poem was originally printed in the Troy newspaper.
The manuscript of the poem includes the original spellings of Dunder and Blixsem but when it was published in the Troy newspaper, the names were somehow changed to Donder and Blitzen.
Donder at the time was the English way of pronouncing Dunder and Blitzen is the German word for lightning. Of course, Blitzen also rhymes a bit better with Vixen.
Later, sometime between the 1830s-1840s, the names transitioned to Donner and Blitzen. No one can say for sure when exactly it happened.
The debate over who wrote the poem will probably rage on for some time. Given that everyone who would know for sure has been dead for quite some time, it likely will never be solved.
Does it really matter if we’ve been saying the names all wrong for the better part of two centuries? Not really.
That’s the nature of language and traditions. With time, they all change.
Although, it does make one wonder what other holiday traditions we might be getting wrong.