The 1st Time Reindeer Flew

Aside from the religious imagery that surrounds us at Christmas, Santa Claus makes a regular appearance. The red-clad fellow travels through the sky on a sleigh pulled by reindeer delivering gifts to all the good boys and girls. Most of our American Santa depictions are drawn from two sources, Clement Moore’s “Twas the Night Before Christmas” (1823) and Cocoa Cola advertisements. Most of us recognize that part of the tale but what if there’s a bit more to ponder?

The connections are not all together solid, but they are tantalizing. So let’s indulge in a season of indulgences. Stories usually have long histories and when you start uncovering a trail, often one thing leads to another. Keep that jolly elf in mind.

photo: M. Maggs

Throughout the Northern Hemisphere, a pretty, red and white flecked hallucinogenic mushroom (Amanita muscaria) grows under trees. In these cold places, including Siberia, Shamans and reindeer have long consumed the mushrooms. Could it be that the origins of flying reindeer have their roots in drug-induced hallucinations? Donald Pfister, a fungi biologist at Harvard believes it’s possible. And what about Santa donning the red suit with white trim—possibly linked to the coloring of the mushroom? Even the appearance of the cute fungi on Christmas ornaments now raises an eyebrow.

A faraway culture filled with healers and spirits, long dark nights, and vast open skies. Stories must have been told and retold around the warmth of fire. What survived? Did some remnant find its way to tickle the imagination of Clement Moore? Who knows? But now when you see a Christmas ornament inspired from the northern climes and a little red mushroom with white dots is tucked there too, see if you don’t just smile. Because wonder goes a long way to connect us to Christmas and to the past.   

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Filed under Christmas

4 responses to “The 1st Time Reindeer Flew

  1. reanolanmartin

    How interesting! Thanks for illuminating us, Ellis!


  2. Wonderful possibilities here, Ellis. Thanks for the fun arcane info. Holiday cheer!


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