Christmas Cookie Traditions From Around The World


CulturallyOurs Podcast Traditions Around Christmas Cookies

CulturallyOurs Podcast Cover Karthika Gupta Oct 2018
Season 06
Christmas Cookie Traditions From Around The World
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Show Details

Today we dive deeper into the tradition of holiday baking and Christmas cookies to understand the history of these delicious sweet treats. More importantly, how did the first Christmas Cookie come to be? What is the true origin of this delicious custom? Why are Christmas cookies popular? How and where did the tradition of baking cookies during Christmas start? Plus what are some of the most favorite Christmas cookies from around the world.

Show Notes

In this episode, we dive deeper into all the holiday goodness around holiday sweets and try to understand the history of Christmas Cookies. More importantly, how did the first Christmas Cookie come to be? What is the true origin of this delicious custom? Why are Christmas cookies popular? How and where did the tradition of baking cookies during Christmas start? Plus what are some of the most favorite Christmas cookies from around the world.

The Transcript

Okay lets hear it. Who here has already started or even finished all their holiday cookie baking. While I totally agree that nothing quite says Christmas and the holidays like the sweet smell of baking from kitchens around the world, I do stress out a bit when Dec rolls around and all those delicious goodies start making their way around the neighborhood. Like I have said many times already on this podcast, I am a terrible cook and even worse a baker. But even I have to admit there is something quintessentially heartwarming about baking cookies for the holidays and sharing it with your friends and family. From traditional Christmas sugar cookies, ginger snaps, peppermint drops to atypical cookies that are a fusion of cultures with spices and flavors these sweet treats are something that everyone looks forward to come December.

And of course, this wouldn’t be a true podcast episode if I didn’t ask the question on whether you have ever wondered about the history of Christmas Cookies?

More importantly, how did the first Christmas Cookie come to be? What is the true origin of this delicious custom? Why are Christmas cookies popular? How and where did the tradition of baking cookies during Christmas start?

So today on the CulturallyOurs podcast lets dive deeper into all that holiday goodness and try to understand the history of Christmas Cookies. We also have a couple of blog posts around a slightly different twist to traditional cookies – one from Paula Saalfield on delicious vegan chai filed cookies and Anischrabeli cookies from Switzerland. I will link to both in the show notes so you can try out something new this holiday season.

Like many Christmas traditions, the holiday cookies can trace their roots back to solstice rituals from eons ago. In the 10th and 11th century, winter solstice festivals were celebrated all over the world from Norway to Africa, Ireland and even as far as India. Typically celebrated as a way to acknowledge the changing of the seasons, most of the ancient rituals revolved around food – gathering, sorting, storing and even feasting because winter was considered a time of famine and scarcity. For a world that was predominately driven around agriculture, winter meant lack of harvest. The weather and the terrain did not make it conducive to grow crops or hunt easily. So people gathered to prepare their larders and food stores for the winter and sharing the fruits of the last harvest with the community. It was a very collective endeavor much like even these days we share our holiday baked goods with friends and family.

Solstice often meant the arrival of the first frost, so animals were killed and their meat tenderized for the winter while fermented beverages like beer and wine that had been brewed in the spring were finally ready to drink. By the Middle Ages, with the spread of Christianity, Christmas holiday took over traditional solstice rituals throughout much of Europe. But some of the older feasting traditions still remained.

With the advent of the age of world exploration and trade routes between the east and the west in the early 1500s, spices and fruits started making their way to kitchens and home. Nutmeg, cinnamon, black pepper and fruits like apricots and dates were introduced to kitchen tables and into foods. Deserts flavored with these new ingredients started becoming popular, adding sweetness and texture to the dessert tray. But these things were often too expensive for the common man. Trading in spices and fruits often meant trading some other essential for this delicacy. So these special goodies were used sparingly. Only on the most important holiday could families afford treats like these, which led to a baking frenzy to prepare for Christmas. At a time when most families were not that well off, people started making cookies and sweets to share gifts during the medieval Christmas season.

Christmas in many cultures was a time of visiting friends and family. Since it was cold outside and the ground was hard and frozen solid, farming was not an option. So, cookies were made in large amounts and stored to share the spirit of the season with all those who visited. In the olden days, giving gifts did not mean going out and buying things like we do today – commercialism was not that predominant. In fact, most gifts were sweets or handmade crafts like banners and tapestry.

Though cookies have come a long way since medieval times, some things haven’t changed. Many Christmas cookies are still heavily spiced. Traditional Christmas flavors like cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger, are still used in cookies just as they were ages ago.

But soon enough with the advent of the industrial age, Christmas Cookies started going mainstream. In 1596 a cookbook called Goode Huswife’s Jewel by Thomas Dawson which was one of the earliest cookery books for the growing middle classes in Elizabethan England had a recipe for a small square short-cookie that was enriched with egg yolks and spices, baked on a parchment paper. In 1796, what is generally considered to be the first American cookbook was published. The author, Amelia Simmons added a recipe for what she called as Christmas Cookery. But she warned that the cookies might be hard and dry initially and should be placed in an earthenware pot or cellar for a few months. Also in the 17th century German and Dutch settlers introduced cookie cutters and decorative molds to the Americas. The availability of these utensils facilitated the increase in recipes in popular cookbooks.

For us in modern times, Christmas cookie frenzy seems to start earlier and earlier in the year. In fact, every year come October, the queen of Christmas cookie traditions around the world, Martha Steward introduces delectable Christmas cookies. All perfected baked and styled, they induce a longing for the holiday season unlike any other. From peppery papparkakor from Sweden, lemony krumkake from Norway, almond-flavored letterbanket from Holland, lebkuchen from Germany and everything else in between. But most homemade holiday cookies are simple rounds or square.

Most Popular Christmas Cookies

Even though the history of Christmas cookies started in medieval times, cookies has since evolved based on regions and traditions around the world. Here are some of the more popular Christmas cookies that make an appearance come December.

Sugar Cookie – These are also called Amish Sugar Cookies. The recipe was perfected by the Moravians, Protestant settlers from Germany who made Nazareth their home during the mid-1700s.

Snickerdoodles – Traditional snickerdoodles are coated with cinnamon sugar before being baked. These cookies were originally brought to the United States by English, Scottish, and Dutch immigrants. Earlier names for cookies such as Snickerdoodles and Cry Babies originated with the New England states. Even with its early history, cookies did not become popular until about a hundred years ago.

Spritz cookies – These cookies are a holiday staple for many thanks to their delicious taste and fun appearance. They are essentially butter cookies made with a cookie press, which makes it easier to create the cutest holiday designs. Spritz cookies originate from Scandinavian countries, where they are a traditional Christmas cookie.

Gingerbread men – These are a holiday classic since the 16th century. Rumor has it that Queen Elizabeth 1st commissioned them to represent her favorite people in her court. At the same time, folk-medicine practitioners, witches, and magicians, prescribed them as love tokens for young women to help men fall in love with them.

Pizzelles – These cookies are thin, waffle-like cookies that are a beloved Italian holiday tradition. They are light, delicate, and taste much like the waffle cone at an ice cream shop. The word “pizzelle” comes from the word pizze in Italy, which means round and flat. Elle means small. Altogether, this completely describes a pizzelle – round, flat, and small. They originated in Ortona, in the Abruzzo region of Italy.

Linzer tarts – these cookies are made of an almond dough with a sweet jelly filling inside, and they are a holiday favorite. These cookies originated in the town of Linz in Austria many years ago, where they were called Linzertorte. A traditional Linzetorte is comprised of a buttery dough made of almonds, lemon zest, and cinnamon, and filled with black currant preserves.

Thumbprint cookies – these delectable are another treat that can be made so many ways. You can do chocolate thumbprints filled with Nutella, buttery thumbprints stuffed with fruit preserves, or even thumbprints with a Hershey’s kiss in the middle. The name comes from the way the cookies are prepared. You roll them into a ball, flatten them a bit, then press your thumb on the center to make a little hole that is then filled with something sweet.

Tradition Of Cookies For Santa

Ever wondered why Santa is left cookies to fuel him on his one-night journey? Setting out milk and cookies for Santa is a tradition rooted in celebrations of Saint Nicholas, a third-century bishop who was known for his kindness to children, so on the eve of Saint Nicholas Day which is on December 6th, children put out food for him.

Historians also believe that this tradition began to become popular during the Great Depression. Parents wanted to encourage generosity in their children particularly during the harsh times of the depression. But the tradition quickly stuck and even today, most homes around the world that celebrate Christmas put out cookies for him and his reindeer.

Do you have a favorite Christmas Cookie? We have our hearts set on some gingerbread men for sure!


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