Ah, Christmas cookies. The baking, the decorating, the consuming…all part of the holiday tradition in many families. And it’s been that way for hundreds of years.
Feasts have been a part of Christmas celebration for untold centuries, and since it was counted as one of the most important days of the Christian year, that meant that all the expensive, special foods were reserved for that day. Which included spices, sugar, butter, and lard. So naturally, when one wanted to make a special treat for Christmas, one brought out these prized ingredients and created a sweet delicacy, often in the form of cookies.
The concept of beautiful decorated cookies originated with the Germans, like many of our other Christmas traditions. Why did they go to such trouble to cut out and decorate their cookies? Because they then used them as decorations on the tree! Cookie cutters became widely (and cheaply) available in the late 1800s, helping this tradition to spread.
So when did we start leaving these sweet treats for Santa? Interestingly, that dates only to 1930s America. In the throes of the Great Depression, most families didn’t have a lot…but they wanted to instill in their children the idea of not only being grateful for what they had and what they received, but of giving too. Cookies were something small and relatively inexpensive but nevertheless precious that families could offer in gratitude. Originally, stockings were filled with such treats for Santa. But over the years, people instead put the cookies and milk out for him and left the stockings empty, to be filled by him.