It was more than ten years ago during our first visit to Santa Claus village – a tourist attraction in Rovaniemi in the north of Finland. My 6-year-old daughter asked Santa Claus why his reindeer can fly in the sky. Surely, this could not be true! Last summer, when she was in the Yamal tundra, she did not see any flying reindeer. The old Santa Claus answered her that that’s right, only his reindeer could fly, while other reindeer could not.
Yes, maybe they cannot fly, that is true. The Nenets legend says that Noom – the biggest Nenets demiurge – created the first human, a dog and a reindeer herd. Then he decided that the reindeer will be associated with the sky, people will live on earth and tundra dogs will be connected with the Nga, the evil spirit of underground.
A reindeer herder from Yamal once said that reindeer are like the wind: you have them today, but tomorrow, they can all fly away to the sky. Thus, he meant that even these animals are very strong, but they are also very vulnerable and can easily die.
Perhaps Nenets reindeer herders have developed such an attitude towards reindeer that they are like wind, because their animals are very much dependent on all the conditions of the Arctic climate, it’s seasons and weather with snow and rain. When every extreme weather phenomenon, like winter icing in the tundra can become fatal to reindeer and kill them.
The Nenets reindeer herders believe that Ilebyam’ Pertya, the Nenets deity, is responsible for the wealth of people and the well-being of their reindeer.
However, nowadays during conditions of the rapid climate change in the Arctic, reindeer herders are in the first line of dealing with it. Their work with reindeer is more and more like playing Russian roulette: one year can be without extreme weather events, and the next could be with a harsh icing covering on the pastures, which can be fatal to reindeer. However their nomadic life and historical background prepared the tundra people to be ready to deal with any unpredictable difficulties in their life.
Therefore, it should be better if only Santa Claus’ reindeer could fly, but not ordinary reindeer. Let reindeer stay in the tundra and keep reindeer herding cultures alive!