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Flying Reindeer

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Yes, when you think about it, you'd be amazed to see a reindeer get off the ground at all. Santa and his sleigh are not very aerodynamic and he would need some serious ground speed to take off.

Santa reindeer

It's possible that the idea of Santa and his flying reindeer originated amongst the tribes of Nordic herders. Reindeers have a real liking for eating fly agaric toadstools and are largely unaffected by them, apart from a bit of intoxication.

Amanita muscari

Fly agaric (Amanita muscari) is very toxic to and more active in humans, as the familiar red and white spotted caps contain ibotenic acid which acts in a similar way to neurotransmitters in the human body. So what? Well, the result is hallucinations and other psychological 'disturbances'.

Those symptoms might explain why the herders thought the reindeer appeared to be flying. So, how did the herders come to be affected by fly agaric consumption?

We picked up a story in Iceland that the herders would collect and drink the urine of reindeer that had been eating fly agarics. This story has been verified amongst the Saami in northern Scandinavia. It's also true that ibotenic acid makes its way through the system into urine, so there is some scientific corroboration.

It's one way of getting drunk but it begs the question of how you might hit on the idea of drinking reindeer wee. The nights are very long, dark and cold beyond 60 degrees N.

Look out for more Christmas related strange stories in the run up to the big day!

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