I can remember when I was told Father Christmas and his flying reindeer didn’t exist. I was eight and it was Christmas Eve. My auntie said she needed to have a word with me about something and took me into her room. When she closed the door behind us, I knew it was serious. I was racked with nerves but had no inkling of what was to come.
Then she came out with ‘you know Father Christmas and his reindeer aren’t real, don’t you?’ I didn’t cry at that moment, but afterwards, when I was alone, the tears came hot and fast. I was furious. I squeezed my eyes closed, tightened my fists and whispered to myself, ‘they are real, they are real, they are real, I’ve seen them!’ I was convinced that the year before, I’d seen the sleigh take off from the road outside my Nanna’s house and into the night sky.
I was desperate for Father Christmas to be real, but perhaps, even more so, I wanted his flying reindeer to exist.
Over twenty-six years later, my ears still prick at the sound of the word ‘reindeer.’ However, it took until this year to find out that, long before the legend of Father Christmas came into being, a female reindeer drew the sleigh of Saule, a Lithuanian and Latvian goddess of the sun. On her journey through the skies, she would throw amber pebbles (symbolizing the sun) down the chimneys.
In winter, male reindeer lose their antlers and the females, who retain theirs, lead the herds through the cold, dark, dangerous season. Ever since the early Neolithic, the female reindeer has been honoured by northern peoples as the ‘life-giving mother,’ associated with fertility, motherhood and the rebirth of the sun.
In her excellent article Doe, A Deer, A Female Reindeer Danielle Prohom Olson says ‘Across the northern world it was the deer mother who took flight from the dark of the old year to bring light to the new.’ This quote has kindled something inside me that I’m really hoping will lead to a poem being gently woken up.