santa claus and magic mushrooms

Written by By Brett Mather, - Published on  12 Dec 2023

Santa looking at magic mushrooms

Magic Mushroom Christmas Theory

In the middle of the shimmering lights and festive atmosphere, a thought-provoking question may arise: what is the connection between Christmas and magic mushrooms? Perhaps you've seen its characteristic red crown decorated with white speckles in holiday decorations or on Christmas cards, but this enigmatic fungus has a captivating backstory.

As this Christmas mystery unfolds, one particularly remarkable detail emerges: the striking resemblance between Santa Claus' traditional red-and-white clothing and the vibrant hues of Amanita Muscaria. The connection between Amanita Muscaria and Christmas adds a unique and interesting depth to the holiday season, providing an understanding of the deep-rooted history and customs associated with these famous mushrooms.

According to some historians, Santa Claus may have originated in Siberian and Arctic shamanic ceremonies involving hallucinogenic mushrooms. The depiction of Santa Claus, with its red and white aesthetic reminiscent of Amanita muscaria, suggests a significant cultural significance that goes beyond folklore.

Key Takeaways

  • The mushroom's characteristic red-and-white appearance is very similar to Santa Claus' traditional clothing.
  • Historians believe Santa Claus may have originated from shamanic traditions involving hallucinogenic mushrooms in Siberia and the Arctic during winter solstice celebrations.
  • During the winter solstice, Nordic shamans used Fly Agaric for its supposed capacity to enhance the connection to nature.
  • The presence of psychoactive compounds in Amanita Muscaria, such as muscimol and ibotenic acid, contributes to its hallucinogenic characteristics.
  • Reindeer in Siberia and Northern Europe sought hallucinogenic mushrooms, much like Nordic shamans, establishing a link between these animals and mystical journeys. The animals consumed Amanita Muscaria, filtering out poisons making their urine a magical drink that was much safer to drink.
  • The shamanic archetype, with elements of the winter solstice and Amanita Muscaria, evolved over time, leading to the development of the modern Santa Claus.

Brief History of Christmas

Christmas has become a specular holiday for many, although the majority don't know its true origin. Back in the day, the Norse celebrated the winter solstice, or Yule, on December 21st, and Germanic peoples had similar traditions. For instance, in Germany, the pagan god Oden was honored during mid-winter. On the other side, during the winter time, upper-class Romans celebrated the birthday of Mithra, an ancient Persian god of light. [1]

But what does it have to do with magic mushrooms you might ask yourself, well let’s take a look at ancient traditions of the Norse.

Magic Mushrooms In Nordic History

A long time ago, a mystical figure of Santa Claus emerged in the Nordic countries. As a part of winter solstice celebrations, shamans used to distribute a special type of psychedelic mushroom known today as Fly Agaric (Amanita Muscaria). Shamans used to dress in red clothing with white spots, resembling the sacred mushroom. It's believed that these mushrooms held a secret power that would enable people to communicate with nature on the night of the winter solstice. It held significance from the Koryaks of Siberia, all the way to the Sami of Finland. [2]

Because of the harsh winter conditions, people's homes were buried under several feet of snow, barricading the entranceway. The only way that these elderly Shamans could deliver the mushrooms would be through the smoke hole, similar to our modern-day Santa who enters the home through the chimney.

Nordic Shamans knew that Fly Agaric was poisonous. To reduce the toxicity they would hang these mushrooms on tree branches to dry, resembling colorful ornaments on our Christmas trees.

To honor the holiday, many people decorate evergreen trees with wrapped gifts and place them in their houses. Surprisingly, throughout the northern hemisphere, Amanita Muscaria mushrooms frequently thrive under the tree's base, fed by decomposing organic materials, and cannot be commercially cultivated. It's not just a coincidence that people place red and white gifts beneath their Christmas trees. [3]

Amanita Muscaria

What Is Fly Agaric (Amanita Muscaria)

Fly Agaric, scientifically identified as Amanita muscaria, is a potent hallucinogenic fungus. This mystical organism contains psychoactive compounds – ibotenic acid and muscimol. While muscarine and muscazone are also part of Fly Agaric mushrooms, research suggests that they don't play a significant role in producing the well-known psychedelic effects. [4]


Muscimol is a powerful hallucinogenic substance found in a variety of Amanita mushroom species. Muscimol is a tryptamine, and a strong agonist of the GABAA receptor. Muscimol is thought to have up to five times the potency of ibotenic acid, a precursor that undergoes a simple chemical process known as decarboxylation to convert into muscimol. This transformation can take place during storage, processing, or even within the human body.[5]

Ibotenic Acid

Ibotenic acid, like muscimol, is a naturally occurring chemical compound found in mushrooms, most notably the Fly Agaric and other Amanita species. Ibotenic acid is a prodrug of muscimol, which means that it is converted into muscimol by the process of decarboxylation.

Ibotenic acid, which is structurally similar to the neurotransmitter glutamate, acts as a non-selective glutamate receptor agonist. It may function as a strong neurotoxic at high dosages and is even used as a "brain-lesioning agent" in scientific studies. However, the dangers of consuming mushrooms containing ibotenic acid are unknown and are thought to be minor in modest doses. [6]

What Are the Effects of Amanita Muscaria?

Muscimol's effects normally begin about an hour after ingestion, peaking around three hours later, and lasting for a total of 10 to 24 hours. While under the effect of this fungus, people frequently report euphoria, a dreamy or lucid state of mind, out-of-body experiences, and synesthesia. Muscimol does have certain negative effects, including mild to moderate nausea, stomach pain, increased salivation, and muscular twitching or trembling. Higher doses can cause severe dissociation or delirium.

Muscimol's pharmacology, as a GABAA receptor agonist, coincides with many of its effects, exhibiting depressive or sedative-hypnotic properties. Muscimol, unlike traditional sedatives, has the power to modify perception in a psychedelic fashion. Researchers believe Muscimol's hallucinatory effects are similar to those caused by medications that impact GABA receptors, such as zolpidem.[7]

In contrast to muscimol, which causes sedation and delirium, the psychedelic effects of ibotenic acid are unknown in the absence of muscimol conversion. Nonetheless, there have been some speculations that ibotenic acid may have stimulating characteristics.

Reindeer eating Amanita Muscaria mushrooms

Magic Mushrooms and Christmas Raindeers

Reindeers are still a common sight in Siberia and northern Europe, although they have one interesting habit. They tend to search for hallucinogenic mushrooms, similar to the Nordic Shamans. By many, reindeer were viewed as spirit animals during the psychedelic experience.

Carl Ruck, a classics professor at Boston University, elaborates on the value of having an animal spirit for one's vision quest.  In the case of Siberian shamans, reindeer serve as a common and familiar companion in their spiritual journeys, adding an intriguing layer to the connection between these mystical practices and the modern depiction of Santa Claus and his airborne reindeer.[8]

But what's the connection between Rudolph the Red-Nosed and Santa's magical reindeer with these mushrooms? 

According to mycologist Donald Pfister, the reindeer didn't start flying after consuming Amanita Muscaria mushrooms, instead, it's believed that Siberian tribesmen may have had hallucinations after swallowing fly agaric, imagining the typically grazing reindeer take flight. [9]

Hanging Amanita Muscaria on branches wasn’t the only way to reduce the toxicity of these mushrooms. Another approach for removing potentially lethal toxins from mushrooms was to feed them to reindeer. Interestingly, these animals only experienced the hallucinogenic effects of the mushrooms and then filtered out the majority of the toxins through their digestive tracts. As a result, their urine became a safe alternative for Nordic people. 

Reindeer became so obsessed with fly agarics that they would eat snow in areas where people had urinated after consuming mushrooms. This formed an intriguing cycle, with reindeer consuming fly agarics and assuring a steady supply of magical urine. 

Reindeer grazing on mushrooms

The Rise of Santa Claus

The shamanic archetype evolved over time, and it is claimed that as Druids wandered, this tradition found its way to other parts of the world. It merged with Germanic and Nordic myths through cultural exchanges, mingling with the adventures of gods such as Wotan (Germanic god), Odin (his Nordic counterpart), and others. 

These fabled beings were pursued by demons in a sleigh carried by an eight-legged horse (Sleipnir) on the winter solstice night. According to folklore, the sleigh left a trail of sparks and fire, while the horses left white foam on the ground, from which Amanita mushrooms sprouted the next year. [10]

As Christianity spread, the Christmas ceremony became identified with Saint Nicholas of Bari, a 4th-century Turkish bishop. Saint Nicholas, who was famed for his compassion for those in need, particularly children, inspired the persona of Santa Claus later on.

This is a topic of great debate as some may argue that the attributes of modern Santa were depicted in Clarke Moore’s 1822 poem, “Twas the Night Before Christmas.,” while others claim that red and white suits were marketed by Coca-Cola's advertising strategy from the 1930s when the illustrator Haddon Sundblom to created a cheerful, playful, and realistic Santa Claus. [11]

[1] Editors. "History of Christmas.", A&E Television Networks, 2022.

[2] McWhorter, H. "Santa and the ‘Shrooms: The Real Story Behind the 'Design' of Christmas." 2017.

[3] Amanita muscaria (L.) Lam., 1783 in Döring M (2022). English Wikipedia - Species Pages. Wikimedia Foundation

[4] Lee, M. R., Dukan, E., Milne, I. "Amanita muscaria (fly agaric): from a shamanistic hallucinogen to the search for acetylcholine." Journal of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh. 2018.

[5] Johnston, G.A.R., Mewett, K.N. "Herbal Products and GABA Receptors." Encyclopedia of Neuroscience, 2009.

[6] Zhang, X., Paule, M.G. "Nervous System and Behavioral Toxicology." Comprehensive Toxicology, 2010.

[7] Pirone, A., Giannaccini, G., Betti, L., Lucacchini, A., Mascia, G., Fabbrini, L., Italiani, P., Uccelli, A., Lenzi, C., Fabiani, O. (2007). "Department of Animal Productions-Section of Anatomy, University of Pisa, Via Matteotti, 5, 56100 Pisa, Italy; Department of Psychiatry, Neurobiology, Pharmacology and Biotecnology, University of Pisa, Pisa, Italy." 2017.

[8] Main, D. "Santa Claus Story: How the Shaman St. Nick Came to Be." NBC News. 2012.

[9] Harris, R. "Did 'Shrooms Send Santa And His Reindeer Flying?" NPR. 2010.

[10]"Sleipnir" Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 2023.

[11] Haddon Sundblom and the Coca‑Cola Santas, Coca-Cola Company.