Holiday stories have links to outdoors world

Aside from school kids who look for snow days and the eternal wish for a white Christmas, most of us set ourselves into endurance mode for winter.

As far as I am concerned, once hunting season is over, snow is just something to shovel and slip and slide in. The older I get the more I understand the exodus to Florida that begins about age 65.

Wildlife, too, goes into survival mode. Hunting seasons have culled out a lot of animals that would not have survived the winter because of a lack of food. Every year, deer are found starved, nearly always the youngest and weakest among the herd or flock. Like it or not, along with hunting, it’s nature’s way of keeping wildlife populations in harmony with available food supplies. I, along with thousands of others in this state, am grateful for a supply of venison that will sustain me over the winter.

We are overwhelmed with visuals and songs about Santa Claus and his reindeer, which presents us with a secular perversion of what Christmas is really all about. But he’s a jolly old fellow, they tell us, and when he first made the scene in the United States, he drove an ordinary wagon pulled by horses, not reindeer.

According to International Wildlife magazine, the modern saga of

Santa Claus sprang from the imagination of writer Washington Irving, the one who gave us the headless horseman of Sleepy Hollow and the story of Rip Van Winkle. Working from early legends, Irving invented the character in his 1809 book, “Knickerbocker’s History.” I once owned a bookstore and had not ever heard, or seen, this book until I read this account.

But Irving’s Santa was changed in 1822 when W. Clement Moore wrote that famous poem ” The Night Before Christmas.” Actually, the true name of the poem is “A visit from St. Nicholas.” Whatever the name, that poem put Santa in the driver’s seat of a sleigh behind the now-famous 8 reindeer. From then on, Santa and his eight reindeer have visited the world every Christmas Eve.

There is another famous Christmas deer, however, the one named Rudolph. He’s our favorite, of course. Probably the one that ran over Grandma, I don’t know for sure.

In 1939 a New York advertising executive named Robert May was assigned to write an animal verse for a large mail-order house. He actually patterned the reindeer after his own childhood as an unhappy, rejected, short child. His Rudolph was an instant hit. Singer Johnny Mark’s catchy tune about Rudolph is one of the best-selling ditties of all time. Rudolph has made millions of dollars for holiday entrepreneurs, reports say.

Real reindeer that forage their frigid way across the Arctic barrens at the top of the world, bear no resemblance to Rudolph, of course. Reindeer and caribou belong to the same species, although reindeer are smaller than caribou and lighter in color. Reindeer have been pretty much domesticated since about the 12th century by Siberian nomadic tribes and others.

That does not mean that reindeer spend their lives in zoos; they do not. They are footloose and wandering as are those who have domesticated them so it was a good match I suppose.

Reindeer meat and milk are still staples in those barren lands even though increasingly snowmobiles are replacing reindeer for herding. If ever Santa replaces his sleigh with a snowmobile, someone will have to write a new song.

I have a mounted caribou hanging beside my fireplace and it is an impressive sight. I bagged it in northern Quebec a lot of years ago but I recall every detail of that hunt fondly and often. Bob Foulkrod, who was the guest of honor at an Altoona Mirror Outdoor Show, was my guide for that hunt. I’ve actually had children ask me if I had shot one of Santa’s reindeer.

I have to tell you that caribou is choice eating, as is moose, elk and venison. One could hardly tell the difference in flavor among them all actually.

If you have a traditional Christmas flower, the Poinsettia, it’s just a bit of trivia to know this plant originates in Mexico. It is known there as ‘the Christmas Eve flower.” Joel Poinsett, the first U.S. minister to Mexico and a botanist introduced it into America about 1830. He liked the plant so he supplied his own greenhouses in South Carolina gave them out to his own friends and they really caught on.

Please accept my best wishes for the Christmas season. I’ll be celebrating by attending the Christmas Eve services, both morning and evening, at my own church, where the real reason for Christmas, is celebrated.

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