Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria) - pictured above - is the classic toadstool on which should sit a fairy, gnome or pixie and is common right across the northern part of Eurasia (including Britain). And it is also the "magic mushroom" - sometimes called the sacred mushroom. Most books list it as poisonous - which is shorthand for saying this is the toadstool that contains a hallucinogenic drug. And deep in the bowels of the BBC's web-site is a lovely piece entitled; "The Influence of Fly Agaric on the Iconography of Father Christmas".
The gist of this little piece goes as follow:
"The Sami have a custom of feeding fly agaric to their deer and collecting the urine to drink. The reindeer's digestive system metabolises the more poisonous components of the toadstool, leaving urine with the hallucinogenic and psychotropic elements of the fungus intact. Drinking the urine gives a 'high' similar to taking LSD. Under the hallucinatory effects of the drink, the Sami thought their reindeer were flying through space, looking down on the world. The reindeers' liking for the toadstool hallucinogens are such that they, in turn, have been known to eat the snow on which intoxicated humans have urinated, creating a reciprocating cycle."
A whole new take on the term "pissed"!
Take a little closer look - you may think that American fizzy drink advertising was responsible for Santa's outfit? Look at that toadstool and think again!
"Siberian shamans live in tepee-like structures made of reindeer skin, called yurts, with a roof supported by a birch pole and a smokehole at the top. At the midwinter festivals of Annual Renewal, the shaman gathers the fly agaric from under sacred trees. Interestingly, whilst harvesting the toadstools, the shaman wears special attire, consisting of red and white fur-trimmed coats and long black boots ie, very much like the modern day depiction of Santa Claus. He then enters his yurt through the smokehole, carrying a sack full of dried fly agaric, and descends the birch pole to the floor. Once inside, the shaman performs his ceremonies and shares out the toadstool's gifts with those gathered inside. Following this, he leaves up the pole and back through the smokehole."
A great deal has been said about dear old Santa - but they never told you he was a drug dealer!