Hi Santa, it’s me, Kyle. Remember? I asked for the GT Snow Racer when I was nine but got a Rubick’s Magic and a set of encyclopedias instead. Yeah I got good at puzzles and learned some new words, but I never did get to have the experience of that GT roped behind the snowmobile like I always wanted. And then there was that whole thing with the clothes in the Nintendo box the following year…
But I digress. I’m an ‘adult’ now — long since, actually — and I have something I’d like to clear up, once and for all.
These days, Santa, you’re a Coke drinker. Everybody knows this. All of us have seen the pictures over the years, depicting you leaning back for a nice swig of crisp Coca~Cola, straight out of the original glass bottle after a long night’s hard work. It’s no big secret. We know everything about you. We know where you make your home and what, exactly, you do there all year round. We know what you wear and who you hang out with, all the problems you’ve experienced pulling the whole shebang off in recent years. We’ve seen it all. A bunch of movies have been made about it. Your candy-cane mansion in the heart of the North Pole is a bustling centre of activity all throughout the year. Even in the midst of the summer season it's a singing, dancing playground of efficient toy-building and merry making, overflowing with an unending supply of good cheer. You and your lovely wife oversee the whole thing, always in good spirits, and the elf-army you keep seem quite content with the lot they’ve been provided.
Really, who are we to question it? What with all the shopping we have to do. You are, Santa, what we’ve always been told you are: a wonderfully overweight, pop-drinking, candy-loving bearer of gifts and good tidings, magically traversing the entire planet in one night and never growing old. Your favourite thing in the world is toys, and giving them to the kids who’ve been good — whether or not they’re exactly what they asked for.
Yet has it always been this way? To anyone else reading this open letter, ask yourself, how much do you really know about this strange old man you let into your living room year after year, prepare and set aside food for, stay up late into the night anticipating, yet never actually see? This prolific, portly fella who insists, for some odd reason, in coming down your chimney instead of in your front door. Who is he really? Where did he come from?
Well I know the truth. I learned, long ago, how to do some real hard research thanks to all those encyclopedias, and this is it, old boy. You’re being called out. Everyone else, brace yourselves, for here is:
THE TRUE HISTORY OF SANTA
Being magical, Santa has been around for a long time, and lived in a lot of different places. He has taken many a name, and many an identity. Long before he was kind enough to lend his image to CocaCola — before such a thing as a ‘corporation’ even existed — and long before his emergence in the 4th century as St. Nicholas, Santa was a shaman. And he lived, not in a lollipop layout in the North Pole, but in a little teepee-like hut in Northern Europe called a ‘yurt’. Siberia, to be exact.
Every winter solstice, when the darkness was at its height for the year, he threw a great party, distributing a number of one of the most treasured local items to each of the other yurtholds in the village. Everyone looked forward to this. It was a joyous occasion.
For nearly the entire summer season, Santa would work in preparation for this great celebration, traversing the forest everyday and collecting all of the yummiest mushrooms from beneath the coniferous pine trees — their favourite place to grow. While the rest of the village went about their daily lives, coming to him here and there for advice as they often would, Santa quietly worked away, plucking these white-stemmed, red and white-capped mushrooms from their hiding places beneath the trees, labouring well into the fall.
Come winter, he usually had quite the stash collected in his yurt. So much so that he needed a sleigh and a team of the most proliferous local animal, reindeer, in order to get around to all of the other yurts, spread miles apart as they were. The reindeer didn’t mind, as the mushrooms — amanita muscaria, as they’ve come to be known in modern times — were, and still are, one of their favourite foods. As long as the old shaman kept them well-fed, they were happy to do his bidding. Santa, being a local, enjoyed his share of them as well. They were, after all, the centre of the yearly celebration. So, as was the custom, the old shaman would dress himself in his trusty black boots and traditional red and white cloak — an homage to the sacred mushroom itself — and begin the business of spreading the festivities. He would mount his sleigh, the reindeer snorting and chortling with excitement, and guide them high into the sky, delighting in his annual passage across the frozen, starry night of ancient Siberia.
The heart of winter there could be quite harsh, however, leaving many of the entrances to the yurts completely snowed in. For this reason, the occupants would always provide a means of entry for the shaman through the central smoke-hole at the top. Down he would come, bulging sack in hand, kids and parents alike clamouring in excitement at his arrival. After the initial greeting, out would come the mushrooms. Yet in order to be sure they were properly cured for consumption, Santa always recommended they be stuffed into a stocking and hung by the fire, in order to dry overnight. In honour of the lovely fungi, the stockings were a traditional red and white.
From yurt to yurt he travelled, all through the night, communing with each of the families and delivering to them the wonderful gift of the sacred mushroom. From the earth the fungi travelled, and into the belly. From there, they would take each of the villagers by the hand and lead them deep into communion with themselves, their family, their community, and the world. That’s what this night was truly about, back then: allowing the sacred fruit of the pine tree — as it was so considered by the Siberians — to remind them of all that truly mattered: their relationship with the earth, one another, and life itself. It was ecstatic, delirious, so clear did the mushroom make all of this to them. Laughing, dancing, communing — it was a wicked celebration indeed.
So now, I ask, what happened Santa? If you’re reading this, please let me know. While everybody still loves you and your wonderful gifts, when did the intrinsic magic they initially instilled, all those ages ago, slip away? When, exactly, did you replace those wonderful organic goodies with all the sugary treats and plastic toys? Are the reindeer still happy, being so far away as they are from their favourite food? How do they fly without it? What happened? Was it the crusades? The dark ages? Those would take the life out of anyone, I suppose, even the most magical of sorts. But Coke? Really? It has been a long and arduous journey, I guess, even for you.
I’m sorry Santa. I don’t mean to be a party-pooper. I love Christmas, whatever it may be. Toys are great. Candies are wonderful. The whole thing, really, is a ton of fun. Please don’t condemn my kids to a lifetime of toyless Christmases just because I outed you. I just thought, I don’t know, that maybe you’d forgotten. That all the sugar and the plastic had finally gone to your noggin, magical though it may be. Oh well, everything evolves, I suppose. This is where we are, so we might as well have some fun with it, right?
Actually, you know what? Forget the whole thing. Just get me a year off my day job and we’ll call it even.
Your buddy, Kyle