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The (Delicious) History of Christmas Cookies

The holiday season is upon us, and we can practically smell the aroma of fresh baked cookies wafting through the air. Beyond being a delicious holiday treat, Christmas cookies are part of many family traditions, and have a rich history to boot! 


If you’ve ever wondered why we bake certain cookies each season, or why we leave the good stuff out for Santa, it’s time to enroll in Christmas Cookie History 101! Before you rummage through your kitchen cabinets for your favorite cookie cutters and baking supplies, indulge in these five fun facts about Christmas cookies!

Treats for Jolly St. Nick

The practice of putting out cookies for Santa began in the 1930s during the Great Depression when parents were trying to instill a sense of thankfulness in their children. Leaving goodies, perhaps in sweet cookie jar from Cheryl’s, continues to be a small way of sharing the holiday bounty. Some families even extend the giving to the storied animals, leaving carrots or apples out for Santa’s reindeer!

Spice, Spice Baby

When unusual aromatics like nutmeg, cinnamon, and ginger became more widely available in Europe in the Middle Ages, they were put to good use at holiday baking time. It became traditional to combine butter and sugar—which cost a pretty penny back then—with these prized spices once a year at Christmas. Bakers today include nutmeg and molasses in holiday desserts, particularly in gingerbread cookies—one of the most widely baked seasonal treats. Cheryl’s includes this popular variety in the assorted holiday tin!

Sweet as Sugar

Along with gingerbread, simple sugar cookies have become another staple on Christmas dessert trays, a tradition that started in the 1700s. At this time, German settlers in Pennsylvania may have brought over the traditional unleavened, easy-to-store treat from Europe. Pliable sugar cookie dough is easy to roll and cut into shapes, which adds to its popularity at Christmas time today.

Photo credit: Ashley Davidson

Frosting Versus Icing

Whether you spread thick pastel layers or use a delicate white glaze on your cut-outs and gingerbread, Christmas just isn’t the same without lots of frosting (or icing, depending on where you live). Decorating cookies with frosting began in the 1600s with a mixture of sugar and egg whites that topped cakes; once cooled, it looked just like ice. Today, the buttercream variety is very popular, and can be found on Cheryl’s frosted cookies in every holiday shade.

A Cut Above

Cookies have long been molded and shaped, but using cutters likely began after Queen Elizabeth I decided she wanted gingerbread specially made to look like her honored guests. Tin cookie cutters made stamping out little men easier (and faster), though later these tools were made from aluminum, plastic, and copper. Today, many families have an assortment of seasonal cookie cutters and look forward to using them at the holidays.

photo credit: Flickr/DaineC

Photo credit: Aine D

Reading about Christmas cookies is a good start, but you should really enjoy some first hand to further advance your studies. Fire up the oven with these Christmas cookie recipes, or check out Cheryl’s wide assortment of holiday cookies and treats for a truly educational experience!

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Meet our Writer
Jennifer Geddes
Celebrations Writer

Jennifer Kelly Geddes has hosted Christmas cookie swaps, New Year's open houses, Thanksgiving for 22, and all manner of dinner parties in her Manhattan and Ghent, NY homes.

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