George Strait said it best in his song, “I sure do like those Christmas cookies, sugar!” And as sleigh bells begin to ring and the snow starts to glisten, cooks are gathering ‘round their hearths to whip up batches of yummy, chewy-gooey or delightfully crispy scrumptiousness to feed both the naughty and the nice. But what many may not know, the modern Christmas cookie has a long and richly-delicious history that can be traced as far back as medieval times.
From Solstice to Christmas
Prior to the observance of Christmas, cultures from Norway to West Africa and from Ireland to India organized solstice rituals that commemorated the changing of the seasons—celebrations that centered around feasting. As Christianity stretched across Europe during the middle ages, Christmas replaced the winter solstice festival. Yet, feasting remained a mainstay of the holiday tradition, and unlike pies or cakes, sugary biscuits which could be shared with many became a medieval dessert favorite. An influx of flavorful ingredients, such as nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, black pepper, and almonds along with dried exotic fruits like citron, apricots, and dates, were introduced to western civilization around the middle of the second millennium. These ingredients added both sweetness and texture to the medieval chef’s baking repertoire. However, along with sugar, butter, and lard, these imported items were considered luxuries whose expense could only be justified during the most important of celebrations, leading to massive bake-offs in preparation of yuletide festivities.
From Around the World to America
Different countries had their favorites—the Lebkuchen (a honey inspired cookie that can include several savory spices, nuts, and candied fruit) was favored in Germany; the pepparkakor (the ancestor of the gingersnap or gingerbread) was popularized in Sweden; and the Norwegians preferred the krumkake (a sugary, creamy waffle cookie resembling an ice cream cone). However, it was the Dutch that brought the Christmas cookie to the Americas in the early 1600s. In fact, the name cookie is actually derived from the Dutch word koekje, meaning “small or little cake”. During the late 19th century and early 20th, representing conventionalized images that were designed to hang on Christmas trees, cookie cutters made their way into American homes, with their use rapidly adapted into cookbooks of the time.
From the Oven to Santa’s Mouth
It wasn’t until the Great Depression that these yuletide favorites became the traditional staple to be left out for Santa Claus. During this period of great economic hardship, many parents tried to encourage generosity in their children and to show gratitude for the gifts they were fortunate to receive on Christmas morning. Almost a century later, this 1930’s tradition continues to live on as many children still set out cookies and milk for Santa to fuel him on his nocturnal journey across the globe.
From Then to Now
Today, modern Christmas cooks turn out delectable cookies of all kinds and origins. From now until December 25th, the fragrance of freshly-baked cookies will waft from kitchens across the country. While some are attracted to sweet-spicy gingerbread, brimming with flavors of cinnamon, ginger, cloves and molasses and shaped and frosted into the image of a jolly little man, others prefer the classic Christmas sugar cookie, spiked, perhaps, with a hint of vanilla and almond extract—a cookie cutter’s dream dough medium. But these two traditional favorites are not all that’s being baked up. Buttery, nutty Russian tea cakes are also being rolled into balls and dusted in powdered sugar to resemble snowballs. There are also peanut butter blossoms, oozing peanutty goodness topped off with a chocolate kiss. Not to mention the buttery, crispy, perfectly sweetened pizzelle—the classic Italian cookie ideal for holiday parties and gift-giving. Regardless of your flavor preference, there’s a Christmas cookie out there to make your mouth water this holiday season.
From Genesis Products to You, Our Customers
As December continues to rush in, homes across America are trimming trees with colorful balls and shiny tinsel, hanging stockings by their chimneys with care, and baking up a plethora of sweet and savory goodies to entice the senses. Over the years, cookies of varying origins have fostered yuletide traditions in generation upon generation of families and cultures, through the sharing of family recipes, including the various spices indigenous to their native lands. Much the same way, Genesis Products, the established leader in laminated panels and wood components, blends innovations new and old in materials of varying origins to ensure a lasting product that stands the test of time.
From the Genesis family to yours: Have a Happy Holiday Season!
Learn more about the Genesis family and our lineup of modernly conceived, traditionally built products.