Yesterday, I published a piece that investigated whether science or History was closer to “the truth.” Today, I stumbled across yet another example of History’s mastery of the concept and science’s continued (and this case, purposeful) neglect of the word. This time it comes down to a mushroom. That’s right a mushroom, a deep-red speckled, white-dotted fungi otherwise known as Amanita muscaria. Worse, this bit of mushroom-induced falsities comes by way of Harvard, America’s oldest and most prestigious university.

So, are you ready?

According to Harvard Biologist Donald Pfister, this “magical” mushroom is the reason we have… Santa Clause. According to


Professor Pfister, ancient Far Eastern Siberian shamans – a place where reindeer abide – ate the hallucinogenic Amanita muscaria and low and behold, reindeer can fly. Dr. Pfister also insists that the mushroom’s color scheme – deep red dotted with white flecks – put Santa in a red suit trimmed with white. Dr. Pfister also plans to add this bit of mushroom memorabilia to his lectures.

There is one problem though: the science professor is quite wrong.

NPR (National Public Radio) interviewed Bristol University History Professor, Ronald Hutton, an expert on folklore origins to point out that… a) Siberian shamans did not travel by sleigh, b) did not really deal in reindeer spirits, c) rarely – if ever – ate that particular mushroom, d) never went around dispensing gifts willy-nilly, and most import, e) never wore red clothes because they didn’t exist.

According to Professor Hutton, “The Santa Claus we know and love was invented by a New Yorker, it really is true,” Hutton said. “It was the work of Clement Clarke Moore, in New York City in 1822, who suddenly turned a medieval saint into a flying, reindeer-driving spirit of the Northern midwinter.”

Note: I may be biased; Professor Ronald Hutton will co-supervise my dissertation at Bristol.