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Santa is a Monk or a Psychedelic Mushroom?


This is a fun little documentary that suggests the origin of story of the Santa story is Sami shamans from Lapland. The film is nicely done. The interviews of Carl Ruck and Lawrence Millman are interesting and the animations and visuals are clever and appealing.

The story is not entirely convincing, though. The documentary tries too hard to connect every aspect of the Santa story in a literal way to folklore about the Christmas eve travels of Santa Clause. For example, they suggest that shamans visiting people’s homes and being rewarded with food was the source of the “milk and cookies” which children leave for Santa on Christmas eve. 

But any weaknesses in the story can be forgiven because the film is fun, lighthearted and thought provoking. I welcome any pop culture documentaries about shamanism. I give “Santa is a Psychedelic Mushroom” a 4/5 and recommend watching.

Screen capture from the film “Santa is a Psychedelic mushroom”

Is Santa Based on a Psychedelic Shaman? Dec 25, 2018 Video by Matthew Salton

Review copyright © Terri Robin 2019


Many historians agree that the North American figure of Santa Claus can be traced back to a monk named Saint Nicholas of Myra, a bearded fourth-century Greek Christian with a penchant for charitable giving. 

St. Nicholas was presumably the basis for the Dutch Sinterklaas, patron saint of children, who donned a big, red cape and rode around on a white horse to visit children on the name day of Saint Nicholas, the sixth of December. 

According to folklore, Sinterklaas carried a red book in which he recorded a child’s behavior over the past year as having been good or naughty. Sinterklaas is said to have been slowly transformed into modern-day Santa by 1700s Dutch immigrants in the New World. “But maybe there’s another story worth telling this season—one about a psychedelic mushroom-eating shaman from the Arctic.” 

That’s Matthew Salton, whose animated short film, Santa Is a Psychedelic Mushroom, presents a different origin story entirely. It’s a compelling narrative, backed by Harvard professors, anthropologists, and esteemed mycologists alike, and it bears an uncanny semblance to the modern tradition of Santa Claus. 

Read more: "Santa is a Psychedelic Mushroom" was directed by Matthew Salton ( and produced by NYT Op-Docs. 

It is part of The Atlantic Selects, an online showcase of short documentaries from independent creators, curated by The Atlantic.



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