Thursday, December 15, 2011

Donner or Donder?

Last Christmas, I started reading “Twas the Night Before Christmas” to my oldest, who was two and half years old at the time and just starting to grasp the concept of Christmas. As we lay in his bed and turned each page with more and more anticipation, the words of that classic poem danced off my tongue with harmonious rhythm and cadence. Until, that is, I got to the part where Santa shouts out the names of his reindeer.

“More rapid than eagles his coursers they came, And he whistled, and shouted, and call'd them by name: Now, Dasher! Now, Dancer! Now, Prancer, and Vixen! On, Comet! On, Cupid! On, Donder on... Wait. What? …. Donder? What the? Donder my ass. It’s Donner. D.O.N.N.E.R. Donner!”

I yelled to my wife who was in the other room, “HONEY!!!! This book is broken. There’s a damn typo in it! We need to return it!”

After my wife calmed me down she informed me that not only is Donder the original and traditional name for that specific reindeer, but it is also pretty common knowledge that it’s the original and traditional name of that specific reindeer. Not common knowledge to me!

(Side Note: It also turns out that the book was written by a Clement C. Moore and not H.P. Lovecraft no matter how much you argue it with your wife until she forces you to look it up on the internet.)  

Anyhoo, either I used to know the original name was Donder and forgot or, more likely, somehow went through life blissfully ignorant to the fact that Donner was originally named Donder.

(Side Note 2: According to Wikipedia, before Donder it was Dunder, but that was probably the fault of the Dutch, so I’m not even going to mention it here.)

So Pat, were you aware of this? I’m an American so I like my steak thick, stuff that is ranch flavored, and my reindeer named Donner. How do you feel about it?

Pat:  Well...

I used to think it was “Donner” too. But I also used to have a speech impediment, so when I learned it was “Donder” (or “Dunder”) I guess I just figured I’d been hearing it wrong. So I was okay with it.

Plus, I later learned that “Donder” means “thunder” in German. At least I think I remember learning that.

And then I thought about the Donner Party. Tragic. They left us a great recreational lake, though.

So...maybe try to look at it this way: If you were that particular caribou, err, reindeer and you had the choice of being named after the kick ass natural wall-shaking sonic version of lightning or the unfortunate family-eating freezing starving expeditionary group who never saw their dream realized...which one would you want?

Kinda’ puts a different lens on it, doesn’t it?

And hey. If you really feel like getting pissed off at alternative interpretations of your favorite holiday traditions (AND at the Dutch again), check out Holland’s version of Santa Claus. Turns out Sinterklaas and his buddy Zwarte Piet do some pretty messed up shit.

“Psst...Santa...who IS that?”

Christian:They think the Pope is Santa Claus? Interesting.

I get your point about the Donner party. I know that I don’t typically think about cannibalism during the holidays. Maybe alcoholism. But not cannibalism.

However, I did a little research and it turns out Donder used to be how the German’s said “thunder”, but now they say Donner. I don’t know if it’s because of the Rudolf special or not though.  

Does this change your opinion at all?

(Side Note 3: To go along with Donner/Donder meaning “thunder,” Blitzen  translates to “lightning” in German. Vixen translates to “slut”*.)

Pat:  I thought “Blitzen” meant to whoop some Brits’ asses via an air raid, or to grow a beard and form a crunchy indie-rock band.

Oh well. No, it doesn’t really change anything for me, but that might be because I’ve never really paid any attention to anything said in German. To many “chhhhhh!” sounds and glottal expectorations to make me want to hear much of it. No intention of offending anyone...I just won’t opt for Thus Spake Zarathustra in it’s original text on CD.

Yeah, no, sorry. I’m okay with the reindeer just being one of Santa’s crew, whatever his name is. I know already, though, that you’re not gonna’ like that answer so let me try something else.


Back to Dutch Santa...NO, he wasn’t the Pope. Even weirder, they think he used to be the Bishop of Turkey, and that he now resides in Spain. Or something like that. Crazy, yeah?

Christian: Nice try. So you don’t care what the reindeer names are huh? They’re probably all just a bunch of meat to you aren’t they? Where’s the compassion? Where’s the humaneness? Am I done filling this paragraph with questions? Maybe?

Pat:, I’m not too concerned with their names. Mainly because I don’t think THEY are too concerned with their names. My guess is they refer to themselves with reindeer grunts and huffs, and aren’t too bothered by our anthropomorphic tendencies. Sorry...would you rather that I get irate with the current state of affairs regarding reindeer nomenclature?  

I’m not willing to place money on it, but I bet “Donder” or “Donner” sounds kinda’ like “hurrmmphhh”, followed by a cloud of exhalation, in reindeer, whether it’s in German or English.

Christian: I think you are missing one crucial point here. These aren’t your normal everyday reindeer. They’re Santa’s reindeer, which means they are magical like wizards. Have you not seen the Rudolf special? They speak English and can fly. Not to mention schedule and run well organized reindeer tryouts.  

Basically they have reindeer bodies but the souls of humans. And can fly. They’re like Cent-deer or Rein-toars. That can fly. So don’t tell me they aren’t aware of their names. 
This is Steve. He’s an everyday reindeer. The one in back is named 57.

Put yourself in Donner/Donder’s point of view. You are an intelligent and magnificent creature. How would you feel if your name was suddenly and inexplicably changed from Pat to Poot?

Pat:  I don’t know, man. You kinda’ keep digging a hole on this one. “Poot” sounds kinda’ cool. I could be down with that. Kinda’ gives me that Euro-flair that I’ve always longed for. That, and imagine what people could say when I walked into the room with my full on swagger and entourage...something like, “Woot, woot, hey ya’ll it’s Poot!”

Christian: OK, I give up.

* May not be factual.


  1. It's in my head as Donner and it's gonna stay that way, facts be damned! *sings Proud to be an American, tearfully*

    I do kind of like Poot, though. It DOES have a Euro-flair. *sings Der Kommisar*

  2. Holy crap! This is very favorite post to date. I love it so much that I'm going to read it to my kids (if I ever have any) INSTEAD of the Night Before Christmas.

  3. Word to that one, Tumbleweed! "Poot" it is from now on, from when I go to bed tonight until I get to work tomorrow morning!

  4. Damn, so THAT'S why my German colleague calls me donder nuts. He's calling me "thunder nuts." Wait, that really doesn't solve anything...

  5. @Tumbleweed - I agree with you on Donner but not on Poot. I think the Europeans would even be too proud to accept a name like Poot. *sings Der Kommisar, tearfully*

    @Megiweg - Sounds like the future of America is shining bright.

    @Poot - Poot is not good.

    @Dr. Cynicism - Well I guess it's better than being called Cupid nuts. Not that I would know.