A Christmas Spore-y

With the holidays upon us, we thought it'd be an excellent time to gather everyone around the warm laptop for a Christmas story that isn't likely to make it onto the Hallmark Channel's lineup any time soon. It involves a fat man, a red suit, flying reindeer, and a bunch of Arctic shamans tripping their faces off. Intrigued? Pour a cup of nog (or a mushroom latte!), cozy up, and get ready for one helluva trip.

The origin story of Santa Claus has been a bit dodgy from the jump. It's thought that the original St. Nicholas was a monk from present-day Turkey who lived around 280 A.D.
Born wealthy, he decided to give all of his money away and travel the countryside, healing the sick and feeding the poor. By the 1300s, St. Nicholas was considered the most popular saint in all of Europe. Even after the Protestant Reformation, which in essence said "enough with all these f-ing saints already!" his popularity stuck, especially in Holland.

When the Dutch came to America, they brought St. Nick with them, whom they called Sinterklaas, but the old guy didn't look much like the Santa Claus of today. For one thing, the chances of an overweight penniless saint would be hard to explain without a serious thyroid condition. Absent as well were Santa's proclivities towards flying reindeer, chimney diving, and eating cookies. These, it's been thought, were brought to us from the imagination of Clement Clarke Moore, an aristocrat and academic who lived in New York City and wrote the 1823 poem A Visit from St. Nicholas, or, what we now call, ’Twas the Night Before Christmas.

But there's an alternative story that might, if not explain the hodgepodge essence that is the Christmas tradition, or at least give it another fun twist. As it turns out, the legend of Santa Claus bears more than a passing resemblance to the Arctic shaman's solstice practices from Lapland, an area bordering Sweden, Norway, Russia, and the Baltic Sea in the northernmost region of Finland. Each winter solstice, these original mushroom hunters would gather up the dried psychedelic Amanita muscaria they collected the previous summer (picture the perfect mushroom toadstools of a Smurf house) and travel throughout the snowy villages, giving them as gifts. Interestingly, these candy cane colored mushrooms commonly grow under pine and fir trees– which might be a clue to the Christmas tree's origin story. Could the practice of bringing a pine tree indoors and placing red and white wrapped gifts underneath it be an unknowing homage to the blessings of the sacred red and white Amanita muscaria found under conifer trees?

Further strengthening the “shaman Santa” case is the nagging question of the chimney, a rather bizarre plot point in a story that’s full of them. Why not the door or the window? Why descend into something that A. you’d be too fat to fit into and B. would likely swallow you in flames? According to shamanic scholars, in Lapland at that time of year snow would likely be blocking the entrances of the homes, so there was often another entrance and exit through the roof that the shaman would slip through, kind of like a chimney. After giving his gifts, the shaman was repaid with food, which could make for a rotund jolly man indeed.

But what about those flying reindeer? It turns out the shamans who used the mushrooms to heal and commune with the spirit world weren't the only ones with a penchant for hallucinating. The reindeer that populate the snowcapped north have also been known to snack on shrooms. Could flying reindeer simply be the effects of a wild trip?

But how to explain the specific details of Moore's poem? It's certainly possible that the images credited to his imagination were actually borrowed from Arctic folklore in much the same way that he borrowed the more general story of Santa Claus. And surely this folklore could’ve been passed down from generation to generation, reaching all the way back to the days when shaman carried sacks of gifts and slipped through ceilings to celebrate the changing of the seasons.

Regardless of what happened though, at this time of year, especially this year, couldn't we all use a little Christmas–and mushroom–magic?

Want a non-hallucinatory dose of mushrooms that will help you get through the madness of the holidays with calm, focus and grace? You’ve come to the right place. Try our mushroom goodies here! And to all a good night.