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  • Writer's pictureDale Thele

'Twas the Reindeer Donder or Donner?

"A Visit From St. Nicholas"

In the early 1800s, an accomplished author, Clement Clarke Moore, wrote a tale for his children as a gift - "A Visit From St. Nicholas."

It began, 'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. ..."

All seemed fine until the 11th couplet, when Moore listed the names of eight reindeer he chose to lead Santa Claus on his Christmas Eve worldwide trek.

"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 Donder and Blitzen!"


Writers and librarians have argued over the name for nearly two centuries, trying to decide whether Moore meant to name his seventh reindeer, Donder or Donner.

Moore's original writing was published in 1823 in The Troy (N.Y.) Sentinel referred to the reindeer as Dunder. However, experts insist it was a typographical error, and Moore meant for the reindeer to be named Donder.

Later, publishers listed the reindeer's name as Donner, the German word for thunder, assuming Moore had made a mistake in the translation.

In later editions of "The Visit of Saint Nicholas" and " 'Twas the Night Before Christmas," the reindeer's name is Donner.

Americans are more familiar with the reindeer's name from the song "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" than from Moore's poem.

Gene Autry calls the magical animal Donner in the song.

The name Donder, however, is not a mistake. It's the Dutch word for thunder, according to a 1905 Dutch-to-English dictionary.

Moore's family was Dutch and lived in a city with deep Dutch roots - New York City.

An 1844 collection of writings by Moore called "Poems" included his tale of Santa Claus, and there, on Page 125, was Donder.

The introduction to the book, which Moore wrote, also refers to the reindeer as Donder - not Donner.

A librarian at the Library of Congress found Moore had referred to the reindeer as Donder in a longhand rendering of the poem the year before he died.

Who wrote the famous poem?

But that's not the end of the controversy surrounding the poem. There's an ongoing debate over who originally wrote the poem. Moore claims that he is the original author of the famous poem. However, there's evidence that the poem may have been initially written by Henry Livingston Jr. The poem was originally published anonymously in New York's Troy Sentinel newspaper on Dec. 23, 1823.

In 1837, American author and poet Charles Fenno Hoffman, editor of The New York Book of Poetry, outed his friend Moore, a New York scholar and author, as the writer. In 1844, Moore finally acknowledged authorship when he included the poem in his collection entitled Poems.

Moore and Livingston never met; the latter died in 1828, years before Moore would ever take credit for the poem.

The story of how the poem came to be remains a source of controversy.

As the story goes, Moore wrote it as a Christmas present for his two daughters. He apparently told the New York Historical Society that a "portly, rubicund Dutchman in the neighborhood" was his model for St. Nicholas.

How the poem ended up at the Troy Sentinel is unclear, but some claim a friend of the Moore family sent it in.

Yet the Livingston family claimed that the same poem had been told to Livingston Jr.'s children years earlier, in 1807.

Who wrote the poem may never be settled. I suggest you do your own research on the subject. There are too many facts and conjectures to list here. In the meantime, enjoy the famous Christmas poem in question.

Twas the Night Before Christmas

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house

Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,

In hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,

While visions of sugar plums danced in their heads.

And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,

Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap.

When out on the lawn, there arose such a clatter,

I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.

Away to the window I flew like a flash,

Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow

Gave the luster of midday to objects below.

When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,

But a miniature sleigh and eight tinny reindeer.

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,

I knew in a moment it must be St Nick.

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, Donner and Blitzen!

To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!

Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!"

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,

When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky.

So up to the house top the coursers they flew,

With the sleigh full of Toys and St Nicholas too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof

The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.

As I drew in my head and was turning around,

Down the chimney, St Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,

And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.

A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,

And he looked like a peddler, just opening his pack.

His eyes-how they twinkled! His dimples, how merry!

His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!

His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,

And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow.

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,

And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.

He had a broad face and a little round belly,

That shook when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly!

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,

And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself!

A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,

Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

He spoke not a word but went straight to his work,

And filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk.

And laying his finger aside of his nose,

And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose!

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,

And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.

But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,

"Happy Christmas to all, and to all, a good night!"

I'd appreciate hearing your comments. Leave your thoughts in the Comment Box at the bottom of the page.

Dale Thele, Bestselling Fiction Author

Bestselling Fiction Author

Stories with an LGBTQ+ Twist

corrupting readers since 2008

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