The Donder Affair originally appeared in Missing Links
(Volume 3, No. 52) 25 December 1998.
by Myra Vanderpool Gormley, Certified Genealogist
Editors receive all sorts of inquiries—especially this time of year. In the old days they came by mail and telephone, but now most arrive by e-mail, of course. A few years ago editors at the prestigious Washington Post were faced with what became known as the Donder Affair.
It began with a controversial column in which the Post, with the aid of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), tried to decide whether Clement Clarke Moore (1779-1863), the supposed author of the famous poem, A Visit from St. Nicholas, meant to name his seventh reindeer "Donner" or "Donder." For those who need their memories refreshed, the others are Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid and Blitzen. The USGS argued that the spelling was Donner.
The editors were snowballed, so to speak, by experts who asserted the USGS didn’t know zip, and that the reindeer’s name was Donder—a Dutch word meaning thunder; while others argued it was German, and the spelling was Donner. It is claimed that then Senator Robert J. Dole (R-Kansas) immediately called for a special prosecutor to conduct an investigation.
Such a waste of time and money. As any good genealogist of Dutch ancestry like myself can tell you, Santa’s seventh reindeer was named Donder, but you have to look under all variant spellings of the name to trace his ancestors. One clue to the Dutch origins of Santa’s reindeer can be found in the name given to the eighth one—Blitzen. That’s really another good Dutch name, no matter if the author didn’t know how to spell bliksem. Donder and Blitzen mean thunder and lightning, making them a perfectly matched pair of high-flying stags.
Moore supposedly was inspired for the Santa Claus image in his poem by the roly-poly Dutchman who drove his sleigh the night when the muse struck the writer. However, no doubt Moore also drew from various literary sources, most notably Washington Irving’s Knickerbocker History (published in 1809). It was a satire on the transplanted customs of New York’s Dutch population and contained several references to the legendary Sinter Klass (St. Nicholas). Of course, since we Dutch claim St. Nicholas, who became Santa Claus, that’s another piece of evidence as to the ethnic origins of these antlered animals. It also explains how Moore mixed up Dutch and Deutsch spellings, thus confusing editors, printers, and readers ever since.
"Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
"On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Donder and Blitzen!
You can read at Christmas History and Folklore all about Donder, Blitzen, Rudolph, and other tales of Christmas, including the famous "Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus." editorial. The latter was penned by editorial writer, Francis Pharcellus Church, in response to a letter by eight-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon and was published in the New York Sun on September 21, 1897.
It’s a classic.
source URL: The Donder Affair
ANOTHER SITE OF INTEREST:
Doner or Donder?