The Christmas Reindeer  by Thornton W. Burgess


The First Reindeer

M R. and Mrs. Caribou were the first of all the caribou to make their home in the Far North, and they loved it. Old Mother Nature had told them truly that they would find plenty of food. So they and their children and their children's children took possession of all the great land where the snow lay most of the year. They found the moss, which you like so well, my son," said his mother. "They found the moss, and they found that it was best in winter. It isn't true moss you know, but is called reindeer moss by everybody. In the summer they lived on grass and other plants, just as we do. So in time there became very many caribou, and they lived in peace, for it was long before others came to live in the Land of Snow.

"But there came a time when these two-legged creatures called men appeared. They were hunters, and they hunted the caribou. They needed the meat for food and the skins for clothing and to make their tents. So the caribou became necessary to men. Then one day the hunters surrounded a band of caribou and captured alive all the fawns and young caribou. These they kept watch over and protected from the wolves and the bears, which had by this time come to live in the Northland. And because there were no wise old deer to protect these young deer, the young deer did not try to run away. They were content to graze near the homes of the hunters. In time, they grew and had fawns of their own, and these grew, and the herd increased. And these, my son, were the first reindeer. They were necessary to man if he would live in the Far North, and they found that man was necessary to them.

"They furnished man with food and clothing. From their antlers he made tools. Man furnished them protection and found the best feeding grounds for them, so that they lived better and more contentedly than their cousins, the wild caribou, for the latter had always by day and night to be on the watch for enemies.

"Then one day a boy fastened a halter to a pet deer and fastened him so that he could not stray away. In time that deer became used to the halter and to being fastened. Then the boy built a sled. It wasn't such a nice sled as the sleds of to-day, because you know this was the first sled of its kind. Then he fastened the deer to the sled and, with a long line fastened to the halter on each side of the deer's head, so that he might guide him, the boy climbed on the sled. Of course, that deer was frightened and he ran. By and by the sled upset. But the boy still held the reins. That was the first reindeer to be driven by man. The boy's father had seen all that happened. He built a better sled, and he and the boy trained that deer and other deer. Then with these deer they made long journeys. So it was that the reindeer became of still more use to man."

"But I don't want to be harnessed and driven and have to drag a sled," said Little Spot.

"That shows your lack of wisdom, my son," replied his mother. "The deer who best draw the sleds are the deer that are cared for best, and will live longest. Other deer are killed for food and for their skins, but not the deer who draw the sleds. Those are the deer that are thought most of, and it is my hope that you will one day be the finest sled-deer in all the herd. Who knows? Perhaps you may be chosen in the Valley of the Good Spirit to be one of the eight deer who once in the early winter of each year carry the Good Spirit on a wonderful journey out into the Great World, that he may spread Love and Happiness. Do you remember, my son, how on the day we left the Valley of the Good Spirit, all we mother deer and all you youngsters stood while the finest bucks in all the herd milled around us? And how every once in a while they stopped?"

Little Spot bobbed his head. "I remember," said he.

"Each time they stopped," replied his mother, "the Good Spirit chose one of their number to be added to his team for that wonderful journey out into the Great World. They become magic deer just for a little while, at a time that men folk call Christmas. They become magic deer, and all the children of the Great World love them, though they never have seen them. So, my son, be wise in the wisdom of the deer folk. Be not unruly, should it be that you are chosen to draw the sled of a man, for it is only the best sled-deer that are chosen by the Good Spirit and become the Christmas deer for that magic journey into the Great World. Now, we must be getting back to the herd, or those wolves may get upon our trail."

Little Spot trotted beside his mother, Big Spot, over the snow-covered prairie, and as he trotted he thought deeply of all his mother had told him. And as he thought, his eyes were opened, so that by the time they reached the big herd, Little Spot was no longer a wilful young deer. He no longer thought that he knew all there was to know, but he did his very best to try to learn all there was for a wise deer to know. And you know when one tries to learn, it is surprisingly easy.

So, from being the most wilful and unruly of all the young deer, Little Spot became the most obedient and the best-mannered.