As I grew up I was made to believe Santa Claus was based on Saint Nicholas, the Bishop of Myra, who lived in Turkey 343 AD.
I never questioned that. Neither did I question why I was brought up on a religion featuring the god of a nomadic desert people … although it always did feel a little odd.
It felt much more natural to believe that when it snowed it was because Frau Holle (Old Mother Frost) was shaking out her bedding, or my Mother’s adamant insistence that if she did any laundry between Christmas and New Year's Day, she’d fatally offend aforementioned Goddess.
So it didn’t really come as a big surprise to me that Santa probably wasn’t entirely based on a Christian Saint, nor invented by a soft drinks corporation, but merely a Christian attempt to defeat the pagans by putting their stamp on a pagan custom.
After all - Jesus wasn’t born in December, but midwinter festivals have always been popular and would have been hard to eradicate.
One symbol that always seemed slightly out of context to me is the fly agaric. Around New Year’s Eve the colourful little mushroom reliably appeared to wish us luck. In Santa’s colours. Just a few days before the Three Wise Kings would come and visit. So, what’s with the hallocinogenic?
According to recent anthropological research this is where the North Pole comes in. Siberia, to be exact.
There's a people called the Koryaks, whose shamans used to take it upon themselves to collect fly agarics on the Solstice night. They then would use these to induce a sacred state of trance in which they’d be able to solve their villages’ problems for the next year to come. Some sources say those shamans would distribute the little dears as presents and do so wearing a red attire with white spots. Of course, it wouldn’t have been unusual having to climb in through the chimney with one’s bag of magic mushrooms, as the entrance might be blocked by heavy snow.
Also, since fly agarics are less toxic when dried, the shamans would put them in their socks and hang them over the fire to dry. I also read that feeding them to reindeers, and then drinking their pee, is a slightly safer way of getting high. (I have no idea of the truth of this, obviously, but stranger things have been done for the sake of getting high.)
Koryak Shamans or Turkish Bishop - who’s to say if there’s any truth in either myth.
But now we’ve got the explanation why the preference is to tell children the story of Saint Nicholas. Because they might start asking for narcotics in their stockings, instead of iphones.