Amanita Muscaria: The Christmas Connection
Despite Coca-cola ads and Christmas poems such as Twas The Night Before Christmas shaping the image of Santa Clause that we now recognize, there are many who debate the origins of the lovable Christmas character.
Santa Clause has deep, traditional ties to Sámi culture and the legendary stories that have been shared amongst Sámi communities for hundreds of years. As for the figure of Santa Clause, he is said to have a connection to the amanita muscaria mushrooms that Sámi people treated as holy objects.
But how relevant is Sámi culture in the Santa Clause we know today? And is there a Christmassy connection to be made?
The Amanita Muscaria Mushroom
If you are a fan of Super Mario, then you will know the red and white spotted amanita muscaria as the super mushroom. But in the agricultural world, it is often referred to as the fly agaric.
Amanita muscaria mushrooms are mistaken as magic mushrooms due to their hallucinogenic effects. However, these side effects come as a result of their toxins and are deemed poisonous, not to be mistaken with wild magic mushrooms.
Though toxic, amanita muscaria mushrooms can be safe to consume in moderation and when thoroughly dried. A feature that Sámi shamans made full use of.
Sámi Shaman Gift Giving
Though Sámi shamans regularly consumed Amanita muscaria to reach an enlightened state, they were considered sacred and holy tools. They were very valuable and not commonly available to the poorer villages.
However, every winter solstice eve, the shamans would deliver dried amanita muscaria mushrooms as gifts to the homes of their own and surrounding villages.
Holding the Amanita muscaria mushroom in such high regard, Sámi shamans would dress in spotted red and white clothes to honor their sacred mushroom on the eve of the winter solstice.
It is safe to assume that the middle of winter in Northern Europe would not provide the warmest weather, so shamans would have to dress up warm to prevent frostbite. Could this be where the image of the fat, jolly red man came from?
Coming Down The Chimney
Due to the harsh snows that Sámi villages would have to endure, shamans would have to climb onto the roof and drop their mushroom gifts down the chimney-like opening of the traditional village yurts. This was because the entrances would often be snowed over.
Hence why Santa is known to come down the chimney and leave gifts rather than barge through your front door.
Stockings Or Mushrooms?
It is also possible that on the rare occasion that the yurt entrances weren’t blocked, the shamans would hang their mushroom gifts by the fire to ensure they were properly dried.
They may not be stockings, but it is still a possibility that this is what led to the idea of hanging a stocking by the fire to safely receive gifts.
Presents Under The Tree
Amanita muscaria mushrooms are commonly found by the base of conifer and birch and pine trees, lurching off of the decaying organic matter these trees provide.
Seen as the Amanita muscaria mushroom was considered the best gift a Sámi person could receive, there is a strong chance that finding amanita muscaria mushrooms growing in the wild would be like finding a present under the tree.
Not to mention that the very trees we welcome into our homes every Christmas are often of the conifer variety.
Okay, it is unlikely that Sámi shamans would have actually seen a flying reindeer. But considering how strong the hallucinogenic qualities of an Amanita muscaria mushroom are, there is a high chance that they hallucinated flying reindeers often.
Though admittedly, rarely were sleighs envisioned with the reindeer.
Not only are reindeer one of the most common animals where larger Sámi communities reside but working with reindeers has been a common choice of employment for Sámi people for hundreds of years.
As such, the common reindeer is represented as a very spiritual animal within Sámi culture and is intertwined with many Sámi traditions.
Recent studies have also shown that reindeer actively seek out amanita muscaria mushrooms to induce their own hallucinogenic state as humans do.
Considering how often amanita muscaria mushrooms and reindeers share an environment, it wouldn’t be surprising if Rudolph’s bright red nose was actually inspired by a regular reindeer eating an amanita muscaria mushroom.
There is no doubt that there are some very strong connections to be made between traditional amanita muscaria mushrooms and the jolly red man we see today as Santa Clause.
Of course, pop culture continues to change our perception of Santa Clause so the connections may not be as strong as they once were. Still, it is certainly one interesting origin story.