Sunday, October 24, 2021

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People & Pets

Dashing through the snow


Real reindeer

Jodi and John Philipp have been Santa and Mrs. Claus for 17 years.

Jodi and John Philipp aren’t your average Santa and Mrs. Claus. You won’t find them at the local mall either. For 17 years, the couple has been touring their troupe across the Midwest and beyond, and that includes reindeer.

“We try to spread some Christmas magic,” Jodi Philipp, aka Mrs. Claus, says.

Based out of 2-Jo’s Farm in Van Horne, the Philipps currently have three reindeer but can have up to 10 at any given time. The reindeer names fall in line with the act, including Rudolph, Prancer and Vixen.

In addition to the reindeer, Santa and Mrs. Claus also make their stops with a sleigh and elves. Instead of children sitting on Santa’s lap in a chair in the middle of a mall, they get to sit on his lap in a sleigh with reindeer. Santa has saved every letter a child has given to him, and Mrs. Claus estimates that number to be in the thousands.

Prep Iowa

“The reaction we get 99 percent of the time is ‘This must be the real Santa,’ ” she says.

She attributes the realness to their attention to detail and their strict rule of staying in character. As far as their appearance goes, the white hair and Santa’s beard are all real.

The reindeer are also real and have permits to back it up. Reindeer and caribou are technically the same and are classified under the same genus and species: Rangifer tarandus. What sets them apart from other deer are the antlers, which are the heaviest and largest of all the deer species.

“They work really, really hard for a month and a half each year, and the rest of the time they have swimming pools, air conditioners and get to live the life of leisure,” Philipp says.

The reindeer have a special pasture with a 6-foot wall to roam around in. They do not interact with other animals on the farm (horses and pot belly pigs) or wild animals, to limit the spread of germs and disease. They don’t allow anyone except the reindeer handlers to pet them for the same reason. Philipp says they require a special diet and lots of exercise. Their vet bills amount to more than typical pets like a dog or cat.

As legend would predict, the reindeer prefer cold weather and blizzards.

“The worse the weather, the better for the reindeer,” she says. “They’re built for very cold weather, and that’s what they’re acclimated for.”

From November through Christmas, the reindeer and company have three crews that make almost daily appearances. Philipp says they are booked a year out and have waiting lists.

“You’re a rock star,” she says. “We live a very different lifestyle for about a month and a half.” ♦

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