And his mommy-deer, and daddy-deer, and a lot of his siblings and friends too. When you think about it, Rudolph was born in 1939, and the average lifespan of a reindeer is 12 to 15 years, so by now, he would have been dead for a long time anyway.

Some of you might be a bit confused by now, maybe you thought reindeer weren’t real. Like unicorns and leprechauns, which sound similar, but don’t really have that much in common. Except their regional origins. Leprechauns are from Ireland and unicorns are Scotland’s national animals. And last I checked, Ireland and Scotland were pretty close to each other, geographically.

Reindeer are in fact real, but they can’t fly sadly. If they could, it might just break the laws of physics, but it would be fun, riding our flying reindeer into battle. And even though they are magical, since all animals have a little magic in them, and very Finnish, the reindeer is not Finland’s national animal. That would be the brown bear. And apparently, we also get a national fish, a national bird, and a national insect too. And a national tree, a national flower, and a national rock. A little greedy on the national symbols for a nation this small…

Photo by Marcus Löfvenberg, cover photo by Joe Green.

Back to the eating! A traditional Finnish dish is Poronkäristys, sautéed reindeer in english, which makes it sound so much fancier than it is. It’s thinly sliced reindeer meat, frozen because it’s easier to slice, fried in fat. Served with mashed potatoes and lingonberry preserves. Another traditional Finnish way to eat reindeer is jerky it. Like beef jerky, but better, since it’s reindeer and organic and Finnish.

“Why would you eat such a magical animal?” Because protein. Why would people in other cultures eat spiders and snails and horses? And cows and dogs and bunnies? Because at some point it was decided by the early humans that eating other animals was a good idea. And now animal protein is a big part of our diet. For Finns eating a reindeer is no different than eating a cow for you. Except, that reindeer survive the Finnish winters a lot better than cows, at least outside. You don’t have to build a house for reindeer for the colder months.

Reindeer happen to be native animals in Finland, as other animals used for food are mostly imported. Like bees. No wild bees in Finland. And no we don’t eat bees, but we eat their honey. And we are trying to learn how to eat crickets in Finland too, to save the planet earth. Hashtag globalwarmingisreal.

Finnish people, especially the Sámi people of Lapland, have a long history with reindeer. The connection is thousands of years old, and there are archaeological sources, such as hunting pits, stone carvings and settlement excavations that tell us this. First it was hunting, then domestication and herding. Reindeer were used to travel long distances. Now we have snowmobiles, but the long distances still remain. Reindeer pelts are used to keep us warm, and the antlers and hooves are still sold for decorations, souvenirs and for folk medicine and magic. Ground antlers have been used to treat impotence for a long time. Anything to help us make more Finns.

Photo by Vidar Nordli-Mathisen.

— Editors

The writer of this story is a member of the Mom of Finland community.

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