The story behind the mushroom trend in Christmas decor
They’re red and white, and experts say it’s no coincidence that they look like Santa Claus.
The Amanita muscaria, also called the fly amanita fungus, is a psychoactive poisonous fungus that is most often red with white spots. Hallucinogenic mushrooms have made their way into pop culture over the years, most notably as a âpower-upâ mushroom in Nintendo gaming. Super Mario Bros. video game franchise. But the iconic toadstool is also deeply rooted in Christmas folklore, sometimes making its way into holiday settings and decorations.
On a recent holiday shopping trip with my family, I noticed Christmas mushrooms on everything from throw pillows to Christmas ribbons. After commenting on how strange this sounded, my husband pulled out his phone to dutifully come up with an explanation.
“Whoa, this is a shaman taking psychedelic mushrooms,” he said without looking up from his screen. “People think they got high on mushrooms and helped the people in their villages solve their problems and that they were in fact ‘Santa Claus’.”
I needed to know more about this year’s mushroom Christmas ornament craze, so I spoke to Carl Ruck, professor of classical studies at Boston University. Ruck studies the sacred role psychoactive plants have played in religious and shamanic rituals and says my husband’s quick interpretation of why mushrooms are on Christmas wine glasses at my local craft store no ‘is “just one of the many ways to put it”.
“It has become commonplace and it is generally believed that the whole ‘Santa Claus’ myth is a shamanic travel folk tradition,” says Ruck, “and that reindeer are known to enjoy eating these mushrooms and getting drunk.”
According to Ruck, there are several ways to interpret the tradition of Christmas mushrooms. Some theories say that Santa Claus is the psychoactive fungus – than those who have ingested the Amanita muscaria felt the “Christmas spirit” and associated the mushrooms with … good news of great joy.
âYes, the round, chubby man in red and white could be an anthropomorphism of the mushroom itself,â says Ruck.
âSanta is a personification of the mushroom spirit,â Ruck continues. “Beyond that, there is even a possibility that Santa Claus as a mushroom will emerge from a cult within Christianity where a psychoactive mushroom has been served for the elite in the Eucharist.”
Additionally, Ruck says the flying reindeer stories could have come from shamans who ate fly amanita mushroom and then had visions, not of sugared almonds, but of flying mammals.
âIt’s totally implausible that this guy is flying through the air with reindeer when we know they don’t fly,â Ruck said. âMaybe it was ‘spiritual theft’. “
But not all associations with mushrooms and vacations are aimed at getting drunk. Neal Applefeld is the president and CEO of Old World Christmas, an ornament company that sells an “lucky mushroom“ornament since 2017.
âIt was born from this heritage that came from Germany where you had this culture of hanging a mushroom on the tree as a symbol of good luck,â Applefeld told Yahoo Life. âThen there are also these other tangents around it and they happen to be growing around the conifers, so you have a good connection with the Christmas tree and the colors are very Christmas and bright. And then the other hook that we love is that reindeer love eating them. “
Applefeld compares the red and white mushroom ornament to the traditional Christmas pickle ornament, where a pickle-shaped ornament is hidden on the Christmas tree and the child who finds it on Christmas morning receives an additional gift.
âIt hasn’t reached pickle status yet,â says Applefeld, âbut we sell a lot of it.â
Ruck says he is also familiar with the German connotations of “good luck” from Amanita muscaria.
âIt’s very popular in the Alpine regions of Europe,â says Ruck. âThis also happens in the Germanic and Swiss tradition. It’s called the ‘lucky mushroom’, but then again, why do you think they felt so lucky? “
For those curious about the Christmas mushroom, Ruck cautions against trying your own shamanic feast at home.
“This mushroom is not easy to eat,” he warns. “You have to know how to prepare it and if you don’t do it right you are going to get very sick. It is not something to experience.”
Instead, he suggests getting your lucky mushrooms as a holiday ornament, pillow, or candle, a trend he says will only take off from here on out.
âOnce it starts it becomes all the rage,â Ruck says, âand people buy it without knowing why they are doing it.â
“Or,” he jokes, “maybe some of them do.”
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