Here’s a little conspiracy to get you in the mood for the ‘silly’ season.
If you know me, you know I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for conspiracies. I’m long enough in the tooth now to know that there are more than a few perspectives on reality – and the truth rarely gets a running in the media.
So for me, a conspiracy theory is like taking my brain to the gym and giving it a work-out. It’s about looking at things from a fresh angle, looking at the causal relationships, digging into the motivations at play.
Following the money.
So just to wrap up the year, here’s one about Christmas. Or rather, Santa Claus.
When you stop and look at it, the legend of Santa Claus is very specific and detailed. A guy riding a sleigh pulled by magical reindeer, coming down the chimney to leave presents in stockings and under a pine Christmas tree.
It’s quite detailed right? And it’s got nothing to do with the birth of Christ – Saint Nicholaus was a Turkish saint who lived around the 4th century AD.
So what’s it all about?
Here’s a theory. I’ve got no idea if it’s true or not, but it gives me a tickle.
So here it is.
The common story is that the image of Santa Claus – jolly fat dude in a red suit, was created by Coca-Cola, in a masterful piece of marketing and celebrity sponsorship.
This is partly true. Coke gave us fat and jolly, but it didn’t give us beards, elves, Christmas trees or even the red and white suit. There are images of all of these things going back way before Coke put their brand on it in the 30s.
Some anthropologists say that the legend of Santa Claus actually comes from chilly Siberia. They do say that Santa’s workshop is in the North Pole. Specifically, the legend traces back to the ancestral traditions of a number of indigenous arctic circle dwellers — the Kamchadales and the Koryaks.
The story goes that on the night of the winter solstice (which was later co-opted by the Christmas holiday) a Koryak shaman would go into the forest and gather several mushrooms. Hallucinogenic or ‘magic’ mushrooms to be precise.
The magic mushrooms that grow in the artic are red with white-spots – think every illustration of fairies you’ve ever seen.
These mushrooms are seriously toxic, but they become less lethal when dried out. Conveniently, they grow most commonly under pine trees (because their spores travel exclusively on pine seeds), so the shaman would often hang them on lower branches of the pine they were growing under to dry out before taking them back to the village.
Nice decorations if you can find them.
Alternatively, he’d put them in a sock (stocking) and hang them over his fire to dry.
Another way to remove the fatal toxins from the mushrooms was to feed them to reindeer, who loved them. The reindeer’s digestive system would filter out most of the toxins, making their urine safe for humans to drink and get a safer high.
“Ah… no thanks. I’m driving.”
The mushrooms would make the reindeer extra frisky, and they would start leaping about. They’d look like they were flying.
When the shaman went out to gather the mushrooms, he would wear a red outfit with either white trim or white dots, in honor of the mushroom’s colors. And because at that time of year the whole region was usually covered in deep snow, he, like everyone, wore tall boots of reindeer skin that would by then be blackened from exposure.
He’d gather the tree-dried mushrooms and some reindeer urine in a large sack, then return home to his yurt (the traditional form of housing for people of this region at that time), where some of the higher-ups of the village would have gathered to join in the solstice ceremony.
But how would he get into a yurt whose door was blocked by several feet of snow? He’d climb up to the roof with his bag of goodies, go to the hole in the centre of the roof that acted as a chimney, and slide down the central pole that held the yurt up over the fireplace. Then he’d pass out a few mushrooms to the guests, and some might even partake of some of the ones that had been hung over the fire.
Merry Christmas every body. Ho Ho Ho!
There’s a question for me about how a practice from the artic circle becomes a legend in Western culture, but stranger things have happened. Some say it came through the druids who were influenced by various shamanic cultures.
At any rate, it’s the best explanation I’ve heard. Unless you’ve got a good story about why we have Christmas trees and legends of a reindeer riding shaman coming down through the chimney, full of good cheer.
More than happy to hear about it.
Anyway, that brings another year to a close here at Knowledge Source. It has been a big, big year and I’m looking forward to a bit of R’n’R. But we’ll be back early in the new year with more tall tales, humorous anecdotes and profitable insights to share.
I hope the break gives you a real chance to connect with what matters to you – whether that’s family, food or beer. I genuinely hope you have the means and the space to revel in the joy of life.
Nothing else matters.
Merry Christmas everybody!
What do you reckon Santa Claus is about?