“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus”*…
It seems that in northern Siberia, the reindeer developed a taste for those colorful red and white mushrooms, fly agaric (amanita muscaria), and will eat them till they’re higher than a kite. Anyone eating the meat of such reindeer will get equally high. The village shamen soon figured out how to reduce the toxicity of the mushrooms, while increasing the potency and claiming it helped them fly. Folks in the far north had not yet discovered the art of fermentation, so the fly-in visits from the shaman with his mushroom treats were much anticipated. A further point…many shamanistic arctic tribes such as the Koryaks of Siberia lived in semi underground yurt like structures, whose only entrance was a ladder through the smoke hole, or chimney, in the roof, down which the shamen would climb with his gifts, carried in a sack.
Then, in 1931, a young Swedish artist named Haddon Sundblom, obviously familiar with the tales, created a jolly round Santa Claus as a Christmas icon for his client, Coca-Cola, using the company’s familiar red and white colors. Coke notes with pride that until that time, St. Nick appeared in any number of guises, from a somber man in priestly garb to a green-clad elf, and it was only after Haddon had developed the character over several years that the jolly fat Santa became our Christmas standard-bearer, shown drinking his first Coke in 1934…
* the famous reply contained in “Is There a Santa Claus?”, an editorial appearing in the September 21, 1897, edition of The (New York) Sun.
As we bake cookies to leave out on Christmas Eve, we might recall that on this date in 1732 Benjamin Franklin published the first edition of “Poor Richard’s Almanack,” a pamphlet series that he continued, to great success, annually through 1757. (Indeed, with print runs typically numbering 10,000, the series made Franklin’s fortune, allowing him to spend the bulk of his time on scientific experiments, diplomacy… and in his own consciousness-altering experiments in The Hellfire Club.)
With the hope that your celebrations will be warm and peaceful, and with thanks for your kind attention over the last twelve months, (Roughly) Daily is going on it’s annual Holiday hiatus… See you in the New Year!