Christmas is when people gather close to families and loved ones, flush with emotions. Joy, relief, the urge to sing and laugh in jubilation — these are all common things to feel at Christmas. Coincidentally, they’re also all typical side effects of consuming psychedelic mushrooms. If you’ve never heard of the Christmas mushroom theory, nestle in snuggly. We’ve got a tale for you.
Mushrooms and humankind have a rich, involved history, so of course, fungi would have some relation to Christmas traditions. But just how closely linked the two are may surprise you.
As Harvard biology professor Donald Pfister once told NPR, there are more than just fleeting connections between treasured holiday symbols and one Amanita muscaria mushroom.
According to Pfister’s comments and theories by anthropologist John Rush of Sierra College, emblems of the season — the Christmas tree, hanging ornaments, flying reindeer, and even the red suit of St. Nicholas — can be closely attributed to the use of a trippy toadstool by Siberian shamans of the northern hemisphere.
The story of the Santa Claus we know today comes from various sources. Some attribute his modern appearance to Clement Clarke Moore’s 1822 poem, “Twas the Night Before Christmas.” Others claim that the red and white suit was a marketing strategy by Coca-Cola.
Regardless of who developed the modern form of Santa, it is possible to draw an association between his actions, aesthetics, and the psychedelic fly agaric mushroom.
Now a secular holiday for many, the celebration of Christmas is based on festivals that span ancient societies and religions, many from Northern Europe.
The Norse marked the winter solstice, or Yule, on December 21st, and Germanic peoples had similar traditions, according to History.
The ancient Romans initially placed the birth of Jesus on December 25th. By the Middle Ages, Christianity had assimilated many of the “pagan” meanings of the festive date. Around 280 A.D., a monk from Asia Minor named Saint Nicholas appears on the scene, dolling gifts to children. As the legend of this saintly man grew, various traditions around him flowed to the New World, too.
The diverse people of the north pole are some whose Christmas traditions are often left out of this account.
Amanita muscaria’s fruiting body is a red mushroom cap with white spots. The shrooms grow under conifer trees and are treasured as sacred mushrooms by arctic shamans from the Koryaks of Siberia to the Sami people of Finland.
Although highly toxic when consumed raw, Amanita has significant psychoactive effects and can be tolerable to eat when dried. Shamans often shared joy-inducing gifts of Amanita as part of winter solstice celebrations, using the roof openings of snow-blocked yurts and huts to distribute them as Santa would use a chimney on Christmas Eve.
These shamans held reindeer in high regard, considering them spirit animals. But reindeer like to have a little fun, too and are known to seek out these hallucinogenic mushrooms. According to Donald Pfister, the idea of “flying reindeer” comes from the potential of a shaman to divine their vision quest guides as having taken off after both they and the deer ingested Amanita.
As for Santa’s outfit, shamans could be found traveling in blackened reindeer leather boots. There’s still debate about whether their suits were red, tan, or other colors.
Whether Santa’s suit was dreamed up by a poet in New York, a soda pop marketing agent, or drawn from the tradition of northern shamans, there’s a common thread:
A mystic who hangs follows “flying” reindeer and drops euphoric gifts down your chimney should be expected during the deep winter. Even Rudolph’s red nose resembles Santa’s favorite psychedelic when you think about it.
The connection between mushrooms and the Christmas pine tree is easy to see. Amanita muscaria’s distinct red and white pattern, which mirrors modern Christmas wrapping paper, appears like a present under the green arms of a towering tree pine.
We adorn these trees with Christmas decorations, notably in the same color scheme. But why suspend anything on the tree? As Fantastic Fungi noted, Shamans would use a pine tree’s low boughs to dry their Amanita harvest — sometimes, they might’ve even placed mushrooms in a sock over the fire. Sounds pretty ornamental to us.
When all is said and done, there are a million and one ways people can divine meaning from any holiday. No matter how you approach this time of year, the Christmas mushroom theory shows there is more to the holiday than meets the eye.