The Origin of Christmas - Inspired by Mushrooms

Once again, we find ourselves in that eagerly awaited part of the year—the season of love, giving, joy, and perpetual hope. It’s also the time for gifts, parties, and, of course, Santa!

Setting aside the religious and spiritual significance, the Christmas month is an opportunity to focus on our families, friends, and neighbors. As a child, I recall attending numerous parties, and playing with other kids while the grown-ups gathered to chat and share interesting stories.

Now, it has become a tradition for me to share captivating Christmas stories with friends and relatives over a cup of eggnog. This year, I’ve been regaling my audience with an intriguing piece of information that few have heard.

If you aren’t already aware of the connection between Mushrooms and Christmas, then get ready for an interesting ride. So, settle in and pay attention—here’s a tale that will captivate you.

Mushrooms and Christmas – a Relationship That Goes Back Centuries

Our relationship with mushrooms is not recent; humans have been using exotic fungal species for centuries. Mushrooms hold an important place in traditional medicine and spiritual practices across various cultures worldwide. It’s no wonder there’s a connection between mushrooms and Christmas.

In the last two hundred years alone, more than a dozen authors have shared their views on Santa Claus and the elements symbolizing Christmas. Santa Claus, representing gift-giving and Christmas, has an unlikely connection with mushrooms.

The story of Father Christmas, the nine reindeer, and other Christmas symbols we know today come from different sources.

One of the earliest references to the gift-carrying Santa can be found in the 1823 poem ‘The Night Before Christmas’ by Clement Clark Moore. The poem describes Santa Claus as a ‘jolly old elf’ with a broad face and a round belly that shook like jelly when he laughed.

santa claus


The illustration you see here is created by William Roger Snow, based on Moore’s 1823 poem. In the illustration, you can see a little pot-bellied Santa carrying the gift sack, standing near the fireplace. Another age-old Christmas tradition of hanging stockings for gifts is also depicted in the picture.

It is believed that the most memorable image of the present-day Santa as a warm, pleasantly plump old man with a long white beard and a red coat came from the 1931 Coca-Cola marketing campaign.

Haddon Sundblom, commissioned by Coca-Cola to create an illustration for an advertising campaign using Santa Claus, also took inspiration from Moore’s poem. Some say Santa’s coat appeared red to match the color of Coca-Cola, but even before that, red was associated with Santa’s attire.

The story of Santa and his relationship with mushrooms can be traced back to even older traditions. Let’s explore the various ways mushrooms are connected with Santa Claus.

Shamans Using and Gifting Dried Mushrooms on the Winter Solstice

On a crisp winter night, Santa Claus drives a sleigh pulled by reindeer, gracefully hopping from one house to another—truly magical. The genesis of this enchanting tale has a fascinating origin.

Some experts posit that Santa Claus drew inspiration from an ancient Siberian belief. According to this belief, on the day of the Winter Solstice, the local Shaman would consume psilocybin mushrooms (magic mushrooms) to experience mild-altering effects and communicate with the spiritual world.

Moreover, many anthropologists contend that, until a few centuries ago, shamans in Arctic communities would present the Holy Mushroom (Amanita muscaria) as gifts to local families.

On the night of the Winter Solstice, the local priest would gather these mushrooms, dry and consume them, and then visit each house to gift these magical fungi.

Given that the entrances to the houses were often blocked by thick snow, the shaman ingeniously descended through the opening at the top (originally designed for releasing fire smoke) to distribute the hallucinogenic mushrooms.

Then again, some argue that gift-giving during Christmas is a recent practice. They assert that gift opening was originally linked to New Year, designed to uplift people’s spirits at the year’s end.

Gift-giving became integral to Christmas only after Queen Victoria initiated the tradition by presenting her children with gifts on Christmas Eve in 1850. Among the gifts were a sword and armor.

In 1841, the Queen bestowed upon her husband, Prince Albert, a miniature portrait of herself at the age of 7. In 1859, Prince Albert received a book of Lord Tennyson’s poems.

Placing the Gifts Under the Conifer Christmas Tree

The symbolic connection between Christmas and mushrooms does not end there. The Holy mushroom, commonly found in the cold regions of the Northern Hemisphere, typically grows at the base of birch trees or conifers. Additionally, these mushrooms are predominantly deep red with white spots on their cap.

These facts share a symbolic relationship with the Christmas tradition of placing gifts (presents) under the Christmas tree, which unsurprisingly belongs to the Conifer family.

It is also our age-old practice to wrap the gifts with brightly colored red and white or green and red papers, mimicking the vibrant colors of the Holy mushrooms.

James Arthur, in his book ‘Mushrooms and Mankind,’ wrote that each year, we unconsciously recreate the scene followed by ancient Arctic cultures during the Winter Solstice.

We bring a tree into our house and place gifts under it to express our love for each other. At the base of the tree is the exact spot where the Siberian people would traditionally find the most sacred of substances – Holy Mushrooms.


Mushrooms an Integral Part of Christmas in Scandinavian Countries

In the cold Siberian winter, where vegetation was sparse, there were few brightly colored objects. Consequently, people used brightly colored mushrooms as decorations.

This tradition persisted, particularly in Scandinavian countries, where decorative items resembling the Holy Mushroom (Amanita muscaria) were hung on conifer trees during the holiday season.

Additionally, in these regions, mushrooms were considered a reliable food source during winter. As a result, mushrooms became a staple ingredient in festive preparations for Christmas.

Many experts believe this traditional practice also indicates a clear connection between Christmas and mushrooms.

However, many disagree, asserting that mushrooms are not an integral part of Christmas, and any use of mushrooms as decorative objects or ingredients in Christmas dishes is purely coincidental.


Reindeer – the Spirit Animals of Siberian Shaman

Quite a few Christmas elements that we have always associated with Christmas tradition have their source in Siberian and Arctic cultures.

For example, the cold regions of the Northern Hemisphere, particularly the Siberian region, are the natural habitat of reindeer, which is one of the most important elements in Christmas iconography.

Many experts believe that, like humans, reindeer feast on Amanita muscaria. Hence, it is quite common to find reindeer roaming in areas where these mushrooms grow.

According to Donald Pfister, a biologist at Harvard University, tribesmen ate these mind-altering mushrooms. The psychoactive substances in the mushrooms made the tribesmen tipsy, and seeing the reindeer roaming there, they hallucinated that the animals were flying.

Others say that the story of reindeer flying has its origin in the old tribal tales. In Siberian folklore, the shamans considered reindeer as their spirit animal. It is believed that when a shaman consumes dried Amanita muscaria, his animal spirit (reindeer) flies to the spiritual world to gather knowledge and take a glimpse at the future.

Centuries later, this story was interpreted as Santa Claus (shaman) flying a sleigh pulled by reindeer (spirit animal) under the influence of the psychoactive substance (Amanita muscaria).

Rudolph – the Ninth Caribou with a Bright Red Mushroom-like Nose

We find mushroom imagery present in most Christmas traditions. The most popular reindeer in Santa’s team of nine—Rudolph—sports a bright red nose resembling the Amanita muscaria mushroom.

Many proponents of the Christmas Mushroom Theory assert that it is no coincidence a reindeer with a uniquely mushroom-like red nose leads the team.

Surprisingly, the most popular reindeer in Santa’s team isn’t even 100 years old. Robert L. May created the red-nosed Rudolph in 1939 for a department store marketing campaign.

May drew inspiration for Rudolph from various sources, including Bambi (from a children’s book), Ferdinand the Bull, and the Amanita muscaria mushroom. The bright red color of the reindeer’s nose is, of course, inspired by the iconic red cap of the Amanita muscaria mushroom.

Some experts counter this point, stating that Rudolph uses his luminous red nose to guide his team on the dark winter night of Christmas Eve and that there is no connection to the mushroom.

The Parallels Between St. Nicholas and Siberian Shaman

It would be fascinating to see the reaction of experts who deny any link between Christmas and mushrooms. There is a clear connection between the psychedelic-eating Siberian Shaman and the rosy-cheeked, jolly old St. Nicholas of the 4th Century from Asia Minor.

While both figures belong to different times and ages, they bring joy to people in their unique ways. St. Nicholas, the original Father Christmas, was well-known for his kind disposition towards the poor.

He was known to give generous gifts to children and help the poor and needy by any means possible. The Siberian Shaman gave mushrooms (Amanita muscaria) to households as a symbolic exchange of blessings.

The tradition of leaving milk and cookies (or any food) for St. Nicholas can be traced to another European mythology. According to Norse Mythology, Odin, with Sleipnir (his horse) and Muninn and Huginn (his ravens), drove from house to house distributing gifts to people.

To please Odin, children used to place hay for Odin’s eight-legged horse. As Christianity spread, this practice took a new form with parents encouraging their children to leave food for Santa.

Furthermore, the practice of leaving milk and cookies did not start until the 1930s, during the Great Depression. Parents encouraged their children to leave milk and cookies to inculcate the habit of sharing what little they have with others.


Hanging Stockings by the Fireplace on Christmas Eve

The charming tradition of hanging stockings by the fireplace for Santa Claus to place fruits, candy, and small gifts is centuries old and dates to St. Nicholas.

According to the legend, three poor girls pinned their stockings near the fireplace to dry them. In a generous gesture, St. Nicholas tossed three small bags of gold coins down the chimney of the struggling family, and the coin bags landed in the stockings of the three young girls.

This tradition has endured, and now it is associated with feelings of anticipation, generosity, and the joy of giving.

Interestingly, this Christmas tradition also shares a peculiar similarity with an old Siberian custom. The mushrooms that Siberian Shamans collected and distributed, known for their hallucinogenic properties, are highly toxic if consumed in their original state. To reduce their toxicity and make them safe for consumption, they must be dried.

In Siberia and other countries in the Northern Hemisphere, people used to place things in bags near the fireplace to keep them warm and dry. The mushrooms that the shamans gave as gifts were placed in the bags near the fireplace to dry, maintaining their potency while reducing their toxicity.

Final Thoughts

The origin story of Santa Claus makes an excellent Christmas party tale. Regardless of how this beloved Christmas tradition began, Santa always symbolizes the joy of giving. Much like Father Christmas, mushrooms embody the joy of good health.

You can also leverage the Santa-Mushroom connection to encourage your family and friends to incorporate mushrooms into their diet.