Classic holiday traditions and symbols are rooted in cultural history and folklore, according to Camosun College anthropology instructor Nicole Kilburn.
Kilburn has found Christmassy links to a special type of mushroom.
“The undercurrents of ancient cultural traditions are often found in unexpected places,” said Kilburn, referring to amanita muscaria mushrooms – with its distinct red cap and white spots – often used for holiday decorating.
Behind the mushroom ornament often seen adorning Christmas trees is a rich history of Siberian shamanism, good luck tokens and flying reindeer.
Amanita muscaria mushrooms are known to possess psychoactive properties that were used by shamans in Siberian cultures to connect with supernatural realms, said Kilburn in a release. The red caps are also consumed by real reindeer providing them the energy to bound so high that it appears they can fly.
Although these mushrooms are toxic to humans when fresh, ethnographic history shows that they have been made less toxic using a process that shows up during the holidays — by hanging them in stockings near the fire to dry.
There is also the connection between the Norse god Odin and modern-day interpretations of Santa Clause.
“In Germany, winter celebrations include the chimney sweep Schornsteinfeger who arrives on Dec. 31 and is thought to share tokens of good luck and Amanita muscaria mushrooms,” said Kilburn.
Kilburn said that she appreciates how interdisciplinary studies can show students how traditions continue to influence our culture.
“Through social sciences, history, and botany, we can really start to see familiar aspects of our world in new ways.”
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