Roll With Rudolph

sick of just having santa at the party? then rent a reindeer.

Tom Giffey

Noel Productions
Image: Noel Productions

From greeting cards to TV shows – not to mention parades, parties, and shopping malls – Santa Claus is an ubiquitous sight this time of year. So ubiquitous, in fact, that – and we say this realizing it could put us on the naughty list – there’s a danger we’ll get sick of the Jolly Old Elf.

With that in mind, what’s the planner of a big yuletide shindig to do? Call for reinforcements, North Pole-style. We’re talking about Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, and Co.: Yes, for the right price, you can rent reindeer. In fact, just down the road from Eau Claire you’ll find a herd of 50 of the docile, antlered animals at Noel Productions of Osseo, where Jeff Fritz and his family have been raising reindeer for nearly 30 years.

In November and December, the Fritzes have animals at as many as three events a day, ranging from parades (in 2001, eight of their reindeer pulled a sleigh through downtown Chicago) to corporate parties. They’ve done events throughout Wisconsin, Illinois, and Minnesota, and last winter branched out to gigs in Colorado. They also lease some of their animals out to others who exhibit them.

Interested in getting the reindeer for your event? Fritz advises that you contact him as early as possible. The reindeer do certain events year after year, so the calendar fills up fast. In fact, he suggests that potential clients try to plan their events around the animals’ availability.

Even though reindeer are a rare sight in Wisconsin, Fritz avoids using the term “exotic” to describe them. “Exotic” calls to mind wild animals like lions and tigers, he notes, whereas reindeer have been domesticated for millennia by the people around the Arctic Circle.

“They’re a very personable animal,” Fritz explains. “It’s like having a dog. They know who you are. Like a dog, they come when you call them. … They’re not easy to train, but they’re very smart.” Reindeer really can be taught to pull sleighs (although there’s no word on whether the Fritz family’s animals can fly) and are even-tempered enough to tolerate being exhibited in display pens and standing around for photo ops, as the Fritzes’ animals do.

Fritz, who grew up on a dairy farm, bought his first reindeer in Canada nearly three decades ago and in the years since has developed a thriving business. Rather than dressing as storybook elves, the Fritz family dons authentic Laplander garb when displaying their reindeer. Their costumes help them educate the public about the history of human-reindeer interaction and the species’ cultural importance to the Laplanders – or Sami people – who live in northern Scandinavia, Finland, and Russia. Around the North Pole, reindeer – who are cousins to caribou – are raised for meat, hides, antlers, milk, and (yes, it’s true) transportation.

The family and their reindeer are as busy as Santa’s elves during the Christmas season, but everybody’s ready to rest by the New Year, especially the cows, who begin calving in mid-April.

“The biggest thing about it is people really do enjoy them,” Fritz says of the reindeer. And while adults are fascinated by their historical and cultural importance, he adds, “Kids really get a kick out of reindeer and Santa Claus.”

Learn more about Noel Productions at facebook.com/livereindeer or by calling (715) 597-3555.