This Christmas symbol is new to me.
I only have vague memories of ever seeing this decoration.
There are cute ornaments and Christmas card images of these Christmas mushrooms. They look so Christmasy.
It is traditional ornament on German Christmas trees. It is a good-luck symbol and a symbol respecting the beauty of nature. It is just good luck to find one of these mushrooms out in the woods.
But the story of this cute red and white mushroom goes deeper.
First a little about this mushroom. I looked it up in my Peterson Guide to Mushrooms. It is an Amanita muscaria or Fly Agaric. And it grows around here. It can also have a yellow cap. It is clearly marked as poisonous.
It is also psychoactive, producing the effects of euphoria, a sense of inebriation, impaired balance, and increased clarity of thought.
It has a few other names:
- Christmas Mushroom
- Holy Mushroom
- Lucky Mushroom
- Glückspilz (German name)
There are those who have purported that this hallucinogenic mushroom explains the story of Santa and his reindeer.
Much like Santa the shamans in the Siberian dropped into locals' teepeelike homes (yurts) with a bag full of hallucinogenic mushrooms. Because snow is usually blocking doors, there was an opening in the roof through which people entered and exited, thus the chimney story. The shamans would often be coming with entheogenic plants (including this mushroom) to administer to the sick.
There are other connections:
- Mushrooms, like gifts, are found beneath pine trees.
- Shamans (particularly in Siberia) are dressed like Santa Claus, and like these mushrooms, in red and white clothing
- Flying reindeer – reindeer eat these mushrooms and may act like they are flying or maybe the people ate the mushrooms and perceived that the reindeer were flying?
John Rush, an anthropologist from California concludes "Santa is a modern counterpart of a shaman, who consumed mind-altering plants and fungi to commune with the spirit world,"
If this intrigues you there is this long article When Santa was a Mushroom: Amanita muscaria and the Origins of Christmas
I ponder what Clement C. Moore, who wrote ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas’, and anchored many of our ideas of Christmas, knew of this Russian folklore.
The uncovering of this story of the Christmas mushroom is a reminder to ask ourselves why we do things, and just be more reflective, and to be cognizant that there is more to the story. And to enjoy our diverse and rich cultural history.