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How Mushrooms Shaped Christmas

How many Christmas legends have you heard about the Amanita muscaria mushroom and Santa’s flying reindeer? Below are some interesting theories regarding Christmas and the Amanita muscaria mushroom, presented by NPR. (See resource information at the end of this entry.)

“According to one theory, the story of Santa and his flying reindeer can be traced to an unlikely source: hallucinogenic or "magic" mushrooms. Santa is the modern counterpart of a shaman. The legend of Santa derives from shamans in the Siberian and Arctic regions who dropped into locals' teepee-like homes with a bag full of hallucinatory mushrooms as presents in late December. Shamans would collect Amanita muscaria, referred to as “the Holy Mushroom,” dry them, and then give them as gifts on the winter solstice. Because snow is usually blocking doors, there was an opening in the roof through which people entered and exited, thus the chimney story. Why do people bring pine trees into their houses at the Winter Solstice, placing brightly colored (often red and white) packages under their boughs? Theory suggests that it is because underneath the pine bough is the exact location where one would find this 'Most Sacred' substance, the Amanita muscaria, in the wild. Ornaments shaped like Amanita mushrooms and other depictions of the fungi are also prevalent in Christmas decorations throughout the world, particularly in Scandinavia and Northern Europe. Reindeer are common in Siberia, and seek out these hallucinogenic fungi, as the area's human inhabitants have been known to do. Siberians have a tradition of dressing up like the mushroom - they dress up in red suits with white spots. Scholars have noted that in Siberia, both the shamans and the reindeer were known to eat these mushrooms. Man and beast alike hallucinated – and it’s probable that reindeer would go berserk because they’d been eating Amanita muscaria. To a hallucinating bystander it’s not unlikely that the reindeer appeared to be flying.”

Learn more: Article written by: Richard Harris Including interviews with: John Rush, Donald Pfister, Ronald Hutton, and Carl Ruck References to “Mushrooms and Mankind,” 2003 Link to full original text with interviews.

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