What Is a Christmas Mushroom and Why Your Christmas Tree Needs One

The Christmas mushroom could be your new good luck charm! Learn how this fungus made its way into Christmastime.

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You’re probably familiar with the Christmas pickle tradition: On Christmas Eve, someone hides a pickle ornament on the tree. Whoever is the first to find it is believed to either receive an extra gift from St. Nicholas in the morning (if a child finds it) or have good luck for the coming year (if an adult finds it). But it turns out pickles aren’t the only accessories that bring good fortune: The Christmas mushroom may have equally positive powers. Curious? We were, too!

What Is a Christmas Mushroom?

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Known in German as glücklicher pilz or gluckspilz (which literally means “lucky mushroom”), the red-and-white speckled fungi grow deep in the forest. Its real name is Amanita muscaria or fly agaric, and finding one is thought to be a sign of good luck, similar to the way the Irish view four-leaf clovers. That’s because the roots of this specific mushroom can only grow in the root zones of certain types of trees, which happen to be those we generally think of as Christmas trees.

The mushrooms are also common around the holiday season because that tends to be when mushrooms are foraged in the wild. These days, most of us buy mushrooms at grocery stores rather than foraging for them. But the tradition of gifting mushrooms and mushroom imagery has stuck around, especially for those of German, Austrian or Slavic descent who still exchange the pretty red-and-white fungi at Christmastime (often in the form of cards or other trinkets).

You’ll also find mushrooms are a popular decoration for Yule log cakes like this one.

What’s Its Tie to Christmas?

Besides being found at the base of pine trees, there’s another reason this particular fungus has been dubbed the Christmas mushroom: It’s a favorite food of reindeer! In fact, Santa’s favorite animal loves the mushroom so much that reindeer herders use bags of it to keep them together and avoid losing any strays.

While the Germans may have hung the dried mushrooms on their trees more for luck than decoration, we can’t help but notice the similarities between the fly agaric and modern Christmas decor. They’re both bright and cheery and prominently feature reds and whites. Plus, the firetruck-red cap of the fly agaric stands out on brown forest floors just like Rudolph’s red nose sticks out in the night sky!

Christmas Mushroom Decoration Ideas

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Since this particular red and white mushroom is poisonous to eat, we don’t recommend hanging a real one on your tree. Instead, there are plenty of adorable mushroom ornaments out there. You can hang them on your tree, incorporate them into the wreath hanging on your door or even make them part of your holiday centerpiece. There are lots of easy ways to bring a bit of luck to your holiday the mushroom way. Discover more unique mushroom decor for your home. Plus, experience some mushroom decor inspo at the new Toadstool Cafe.

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Amanda Tarlton
As both a freelance lifestyle writer and editor for a national teen magazine, Amanda spends most of her time creating #content. In those (rare) moments when she's not at her desk typing furiously, she's likely teaching a hot yoga class, reading the latest chick-lit or baking a batch of her famous scones.
Lisa Kaminski
Lisa is an editor at Taste of Home where she gets to embrace her passion for baking. She pours this love of all things sweet (and sometimes savory) into Bakeable, Taste of Home's baking club. Lisa is also dedicated to finding and testing the best ingredients, kitchen gear and home products for our Test Kitchen-Preferred program. At home, you'll find her working on embroidery and other crafts.