By Lauren Wanko
On Christmas it’s not all about Santa. He wouldn’t get around without his reindeer and one of Santa’s little helpers visited an excited group of students before the big day.
“I love to see the reindeer,” six-year-old Brooke Nelson said.
“It’s amazing that they just came all the way from the North Pole just to come see all of us,” nine-year-old Noah Barnes said.
This North Pole is actually in Branchburg and Thunder the reindeer is being rented.
When asked how someone gets into the business of renting reindeer, Mark Sopko said, “Well first of all you have to have a love of Christmas. That I had at an early age, and I really wanted to do something spectacular and bring some magic back to Christmas season and what better way to do it then with reindeer?”
Sopko, a veterinary dental technician, launched Reindeer Magic and Miracles in 2012 after purchasing two reindeer from a breeder in New York. They both passed away in October from tick-borne disease. Now two-and-half-year-old Jingles and six-month-old Thunder are taking the reins. November and December are their busy months, but during their down time they roam in an enclosed pasture, eat mostly elk, deer pellets and hay and play.
“They’re playful, they’re curious, they’ll follow you all around. They want to play with their antlers,” Sopko said.
Thunder loved following our camera around and the kids loved seeing him.
“His antlers are tiny,” Nelson said. “He might be little, but he’s still strong!”
One girl said that the best part about the antlers are that they’re magic.
Mark says male and female reindeer start growing antlers soon after they’re born.The reindeer shed their antlers every year — anywhere from December through spring time. They grow back right away and they get bigger each year. He says by the time the reindeer reaches about eight-years-old these antlers will have maxed out in size.
“They were basically brought over here to Alaska in the late 1800s from Lapland where they’re originally from. There are no wild reindeer, they’re all owned by reindeer herders over there,” Sopko said. “They’ve been domesticated for thousands and thousands of years, so they use them as pack animals, they use them to pull sleighs, that’s all true.”
Reindeer Magic and Miracles has as many as three events per day. Most clients book a year in advance. It costs about $500 an hour. Belleville Number 7 School’s Organization of Parents and Educators sponsored this event for the second year.
“They are truly deserving of this special gift,” said Principal Lucy Demikoff.
“When you look at them, young or old, you just feel like a kid again. It just symbolizes Christmas and Santa,” Danielle Nelson said.
“When people see them their eyes just light up. They are magical. There’s just something about them. Everyone who seem them just smiles,” Sopko said.
The reindeer seem pretty content, too. They should rest up now because they’ve got a lot presents to deliver.