Natural Life: Reindeers away!

If you still happen to be so young that you have children looking forward to Santa, then you won't want to tell them about Stefán Magnússon. Any child discovering Stefán's occupation will want you to call the police immediately.

Stefán is a hardworking farmer. He farms Rudolfs. He has 3,000 of them on his reindeer farm in Greenland. Some of them are used to make reindeer sausages or salami; the better quality cuts end up as Christmas joints.

When you're sitting down to your turkey or your socially-uppity goose, Stefán and many Stefáns like him will be carving themselves a generous slice of the popular red-nosed sleigh puller. A full reindeer lasts even longer than the biggest Christmas bird, so there'll be at least a week of Red Nose Stew before his fridge is emptied of the remains of Santa's Yuletide runner.

But there's no need for your children to panic: it won't be Rudolf himself that will be on the plate. There'd be very little meat on an animal that has spent the night dragging 40 tons of Harry Potter merchandise all around the world and pulling thousands of portable televisions destined for the bedrooms of the really spoilt children. Nevertheless, Stefán's Christmas dinner would be a first cousin of Rudolf.

You might think that any parent that served up a slice of reindeer to his children would have a riot on his hands on Christmas day. But in the frozen wastes of Greenland, Santa's means of pulling his sleigh is rather different. Like any successful set of beliefs, Santa is able to adapt his principals to suit his cultural surrounds. Santa's golden rule of transport states that a country's Christmas dinner must never be used to deliver presents to its children. That's why in a reindeer-eating country like Greenland, his sleigh is pulled across the country by two dozen white turkeys.

Reports have it that the turkeys are even better at pulling the sleigh through the night sky given that – unlike the reindeer – they at least have wings. But he daren't use them in Ireland. He tried them one year but just as he was reaching the northern coast of Derry, the turkeys looked down to see two million of their relations in Irish kitchens on their backs, motionless and stuffed with sage. Santa's turkeys refused to go any further and the sleigh ground to a complete halt off the rocks at Malin head.

Now as he leaves the coast of Greenland for Ireland, Santa lets the turkeys loose, straps in the reindeer, and orders his helpers to cease singing the popular Greenland Christmas song, 'Terence the Tender-breasted Turkey.'