SANTA CLAUS. The man, the myth, the legend! When I was little I was constantly stoked during the holidays for the big guy to come bring me gifts, magically flying to my house, plopping out my hearth, depositing mindless garbage into my living room. While I long for those days of innocence and faith in such things, I love and appreciate the ACTUAL origin of this guy, his suit, and his reindeer.
Harvard scholar and biologist Donald Pfister suggests an alternate origin theory to many that other sources suggest, Kris Kringle's true origin comes from the pre-Christian, tribal Siberian mushroom Shamans.
Illustrations by Genevieve Mariani
Tribes such as the Koryaks lived lives very intertwined with reindeer. Reindeer were their spirit animals with whom they coexisted (also, the reindeer of Svalbard are much smaller than other species - could potentially be where that "eight tiny reindeer" line came from), sharing the land, and food with them.
Photo by Christopher Michael
This included a spiritual treat, the Amanita Muscaria mushroom—also known as fly agaric for its unique hallucinogenic properties. These mushrooms grow underneath pine trees - making them brightly festive, much like presents! It was tradition for the shamans to deliver these mushrooms to their tribe during the Winter Solstice. The reindeer were also known to chow down on these trippy treats, making pretty much everyone involved capable of flight. There is no coincidence here as to why mushrooms are still popular Christmas tree decorations!
Oh, they also traveled by sleigh. On top of all this striking evidence, during winter months, the shamans had to deliver the 'shrooms through the chimneys of their people's yurts. They also wore suits made of colors that reflected these beautiful mushrooms - red and white.
Now, while not completely relevant to the origin story; on top of all this undeniable business - the Shamans were often (from what I can see) FEMALE. OH, and ALL the reindeer were female - at least the ones who are apparently pulling Santa's sleigh. Male reindeer shed their antlers in Winter - females do not. SO, that horribly sexist claymation Rudolph movie was way off.
As always, Western culture and Christianity have a load of explanations, taking credit for this myth - but Santa Claus existed long prior, and has maybe an even deeper, spiritual existence than we imagined . . . and "he" really does come from the North Pole!