Now what do you want for Christmas, little girl? How about a controversial Santa creation story to tell around the holiday dinner table, perfect for shutting everyone up when a grandparent asks why you’re not married?
When I found out Santa Claus wasn’t real, my mother explained to me that he existed as “the spirit of Christmas, a form of love.” I appreciated that non-denominational explanation, but as an adult I sometimes like some science with my snowman sugar cookies. So let’s talk about the Fly Agaric (Amanita Muscaria) mushroom, a psychoactive basidiomycete fungus (meaning you’ll trip jingle balls). You may be familiar with this red and white spotted shroom from a Mario Bros. video game. According to Christopher Ryan of Psychology Today, “The key to understanding Santa is Amanita muscaria – the well-known red and white mushroom with a long history of shamanic use from Western Europe to Siberia. I am convinced that Santa is essentially a shaman that has quietly yet forcefully entered into the consciousness of Western culture, like a mushroom nudging up through parking lot asphalt.”
If you think about it, (and it helps to ingest some Fly Agaric first) you may notice a similarity between the hue of the shroom and the Christmas costume customized in our minds for Santa. According to an article in Cannabis Culture by Dana Larsen, many Christmas traditions, including the legend of Santa Claus, evolved from shamanistic traditions of tribes of pre-Christian Northern Europe.
It wasn’t just humans who found that mushrooms could be used for more than nutritional value. Reindeer (sound familiar?) would consume the shrooms, prance around from the effects, and then tribal people would consume their pee. Screw cookies and milk. Because of how the body processes the toxins, urine containing the Fly Agaric is actually safer to take than the straight-up fungi. People would also drink their own and each other’s pee because the chemicals stayed in the body after multiple trips to the loo.
However, the Sami people considered the reindeer sacred. So it was extra special to get high from the piss of a reindeer. It’s been speculated that the out of body experience of the trip accounts for tales of the flying herd. Word is out on Rudolph though.
To prepare these mushrooms (other than feed them to reindeer then cultivate them through urinary tracts) they were dried then strung up on ropes like a clothesline, in a similar fashion to stringing pop corn along a Christmas tree. Santa himself, with cheeks jolly from tripping, now wears the red and white outfit of the ancient shamans who would dress up in the colors of the mushroom before collecting them for ceremonial consumption. According to a 1986 edition of New Scientist “The Fly Agaric has appeared on Central Europe Christmas cards for a long time.”
So, to shake it up this Xmas, don your slutty Santa hat and tell this tale by the fire, or you know, just take some shrooms and watch grandma get weird.