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Baking Up Joy: The Sweet Tradition of Christmas Cookies

Updated: Dec 5, 2023

Cinnamon star cookies being glazed with a pastry brush.

'Tis the season to be jolly, and what better way to spread holiday cheer than with the delightful tradition of Christmas cookies? As I sit here surrounded by the warm aroma of freshly baked treats, I can't help but marvel at the magic that these little confections bring to the festive season.

Growing up, Christmas cookies were more than just sweet treats; they were a symbol of togetherness, love, and the joy of giving. Now, as an adult, I find myself continuing this delicious tradition, eager to share the joy with friends and family.

But have you ever wondered why Christmas and cookies go hand in hand? Let's explore the rich history and some fun facts behind this scrumptious tradition.

A Sweet Slice of History

The origins of the Christmas cookie tradition can be traced back to medieval Europe, where they were initially crafted with spices and honey. These early cookies were often molded into intricate shapes, reflecting the festive spirit of the season. Over time, the tradition evolved, and ingredients like butter, sugar, and spices became more accessible, transforming Christmas cookies into the sweet delights we know and love today.

Why Cookies for Christmas?

The idea of leaving cookies out for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve has become a cherished tradition in many households. Legend has it that children would leave treats for St. Nicholas or Sinterklaas in the hopes of receiving gifts in return. The custom eventually made its way to America, where it merged with other holiday traditions, solidifying cookies as an integral part of Christmas celebrations.

Moreover, the act of baking and sharing Christmas cookies is a universal language of love. Whether it's a batch of classic sugar cookies or a family recipe passed down through generations, these sweet creations bring people together. The act of sharing cookies with friends, neighbors, and colleagues fosters a sense of community and goodwill, making Christmas a season of generosity and kindness.

Fun Facts to Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth

  1. Gingerbread Magic: Gingerbread cookies have been a holiday staple for centuries. In fact, Queen Elizabeth I is credited with creating the first gingerbread man, having them made in the likeness of important guests.

  2. Fortune in Every Bite: The tradition of hiding a coin or trinket inside a Christmas pudding has its cookie counterpart in the Greek Vasilopita. This almond-flavored New Year's cake often contains a hidden coin, bringing good luck to the person who finds it in their slice.

  3. Cookie Cutter Creativity: The popularity of cookie cutters soared in the 19th century, making it easier for bakers to create festive shapes. The tradition of shaped cookies took off, with everything from stars and trees to Santas and reindeer gracing our holiday tables.

  4. The World's Largest Gingerbread Village: Every year, the town of Bergen in Norway hosts the world's largest gingerbread village. This edible masterpiece, made by locals, includes over 2,000 buildings and attracts visitors from around the globe.

  5. Cookie Exchange Parties: The modern tradition of cookie exchange parties gained popularity in the mid-20th century. Friends and family gather to swap their favorite cookie recipes and, of course, indulge in the sweet results.

Swiss Spitzbube cookies on a beautiful holiday table.

My Own Sweet Tradition

In my household, the Christmas cookie tradition is a festive marathon that begins weeks before the big day. The kitchen becomes a hub of activity, filled with the hustle and bustle of mixing, rolling, and baking. It's a time when cherished family recipes are dusted off, and new ones are experimented with – all in the spirit of creating the perfect assortment of cookies to share.

One of our family favorites is a classic Swiss jam filled cookie called Spitzbube. (We make sure to bake a double batch because the are always the first to go). The process of cutting out the shapes, filling them with jam and decorating them with a sweet lemony icing glaze is a cherished bonding experience. The laughter and joy that fill the kitchen as we create our edible masterpieces are as essential to our holiday celebrations as the cookies themselves.

As I pack these sweet treats into festive tins to share with friends and neighbors, I can't help but reflect on the timeless appeal of Christmas cookies. They are more than just baked goods; they are edible expressions of love, joy, and tradition.

Swiss Chrabeli cookies, freshly baked styled in a Christmas theme.

Embracing the Sweetness

In a world that often seems hectic and disconnected, the tradition of Christmas cookies provides a sweet reminder of the simple joys that bring us together. It's about more than just indulging in sugary goodness – it's about creating memories, forging connections, and celebrating the spirit of giving.

So, as you embark on your own cookie-baking adventure this holiday season, remember that you're not just making treats; you're continuing a time-honored tradition that spans centuries and cultures. Whether you're baking gingerbread men, snickerdoodles, or thumbprint cookies, each batch carries with it the warmth and love that make this season truly magical.

May your ovens be warm, your dough be sweet, and your holidays be filled with the delicious joy of Christmas cookies. Happy baking!

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