Reindeer pause in Granite Falls
A holiday event Sunday won’t just be fun for kids – it will highlight the historical connections between Santa’s reindeer and the Andrew Volstead family
It’s become something of a holiday tradition in Granite Falls over the past few years. On the Sunday before Christmas, kids can come to meet Santa Claus and see live reindeer at the historic Volstead House on Ninth Avenue.
The free event has been popular in past years, and the reindeer will return Sunday afternoon, from 1-3:30 p.m.
“It’s really a fun addition to Christmas,” said Mary Gillespie, heritage partnership coordinator for the Volstead House.
But the connection between the Volstead House and Santa’s sleigh is actually deeper than you’d think. The Volstead family is perhaps best known for Andrew Volstead, the U.S. representative from Minnesota whose name was on the act enforcing Prohibition. But Volstead’s daughter Laura also had an unusual life story, Gillespie said. Laura Volstead earned a law degree and served as her father’s secretary. And in 1928, Laura married Carl J. Lomen, an Alaska businessman with an interesting claim to fame.
“He was called ‘the Reindeer King,'” Gillespie said.
In the 1920s, the Lomen family’s business ventures grew from a herd of 9,000 reindeer to include more than 250,000 head of stock, as well as slaughterhouses and ships for transporting reindeer meat. Carl Lomen was also active in marketing reindeer to the American public, by popularizing the image of Santa Claus with his reindeer.
The idea of Santa riding in a sleigh pulled by reindeer first appeared in the poem “A Visit From St. Nicholas,” all the way back in 1823. But Lomen helped promote the image, even teaming up with Macy’s department store in 1926 to hold a Christmas parade featuring Santa and his reindeer.
“He was credited with making it more of a famous thing,” Gillespie said.
Lomen’s reindeer kingdom ended when federal laws changed, Gillespie said. Under the Reindeer Act of 1937, only Native Americans could farm reindeer. But the image of reindeer pulling Santa’s sleigh lived on in popular culture.
Gillespie said the first event with Santa and his reindeer was held at the Volstead House because of the reindeer connection. After that, she said, “We decided to make it a yearly event.” The Sunday right before Christmas also seemed to work out as a regular date, because a lot of people are home for the holidays. Contributions from the community help make the event possible. The reindeer are provided and handled by Kendallville Farm of Minnesota, Gillespie said.
In past years, the Santa and His Reindeer event has been popular with area kids and families. Gillespie estimated that around 250 people visited last year. In addition to Santa and the live reindeer, there some other treats for visiting children.
“We make these little treats called reindeer dust,” which kids can sprinkle outside their homes to help guide Santa’s sleigh, she said.
In addition to the Sunday event with Santa, the Volstead House is having a “1920s Christmas” this year, Gillespie said. Admission to the Volstead House Museum will be free on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through Dec. 30.
The Volstead House is owned by the city of Granite Falls. The Granite Falls Historical Society received a Minnesota Historical Society Partnership Grant that will allow the Granite Falls Historical Society, the city of Granite Falls and the Granite Area Arts Council to develop exhibits and events focusing on Andrew Volstead’s most significant legislations: the 1919 Prohibition Act and the 1922 Capper-Volstead Cooperatives Act.