We all know how it goes. Leave cookies out for Santa, go to sleep, Santa eats cookies, get presents.
It’s a sure-fire way to make sure your parents get – I MEAN Santa stays fat.
The practice of leaving food for Santa comes from pagan cultures in pre-Christian Europe. Pagans presented food offerings to their ancestor in the hopes that the dead would bless their living descendants. Leaving food for ancestors has always had a very specific date in the pagan calendar and tended to be during the winter solstice. This practice of honoring dead loved ones is still apparent today, during celebrations such as the Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) and at religious shrines.
Once Christianity was introduced, the tradition of giving gifts of food to ancestors or gods was altered slightly. In Europe, a huge feast was held on December 6th, Saint Nicholas Day. After the feast, children would leave out food and drink for Saint Nicholas who had been traveling all night and must be very hungry. in the morning it had been replaced with gifts. During the Protestant Reformation, the feast of Saint Nicholas was considered extravagant and gaudy and was discouraged, but people still wanted to honor Saint Nicholas with a feast and gifts. They moved their traditional feast to Christmas Eve and continued leaving out tasty tidbits for Saint Nicholas.
There is another story of the Norse god, Odin, and his eight legged horse, Sleipnir. During the winter solstice, Odin would hold a great hunting party. Sleipnir could leap great distances, helping Odin cover vast amounts of ground (that’s possibly where the reindeer came from). Children would leave their boots by the chimney filled with carrots, straw, or sugar for Sleipnir and a glass of wine for Odin (ya know, since he ate no other food than wine). In return for their generosity, Odin would leave candy and other small gifts for the children. Children still leave out boots in Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands, while in other Germanic countries they leave out stockings.
The Dutch had a similar tradition. Their Santa Claus, called Sinterklaas, rode a horse through the country leaving gifts for all the children who “knew their prayers.” In return, children left food offerings for his horse, usually hay or carrots in shoes or socks by the door. Some leave a glass of gin for Sinterklaas, as well.
And there is still one more story. In western Germany, Christmas trees were decorated with apples, wafers, and cookies. Parents and children began to notice that “Santa” was snacking on the cookies. Children assumed that Santa (who was really just a bunch of mice) must be hungry and, at their parents’ encouragement, began leaving out plates of cookies by the fireplace. That was done partially to keep it close to Santa’s entrance and partially to keep the mice at bay.
Today, countries leave out different offerings. In Sweden, children leave rice porridge or a saucer of milk for the Juul Nisse, who are elves that live in the attic. British and Australian children will leave out mince pies and glasses of sherry, while Irish children leave Santa a glass of Guinness. And in the US, the most popular snack is the Oreo cookie.
Leaving cookies for Santa is most common in America. The tradition is actually a fairly new one that began with the new version of Santa. In The Night Before Christmas, Clement Clarke Moore describes Santa’s belly as “jiggling like a bowl full of jelly.” Meaning Santa was fat. Meaning that Santa obviously had a sweet tooth. Still, leaving cookies didn’t really begin until the 1930’s during the Great Depression. Naughty children would leave out cookies to bribe the sweet-toothed Santa into leaving them gifts while good children left the cookies as a thank you.
Here’s a news article about how many calories Santa consumes on Christmas Eve. Hint: It’s 262,200,000.
Sounds like somebody needs to make a New Year’s Resolution.
Keep eating and asking, my friends.
-Donnelly, Maddie. “The History of Santa and Christmas Cookies – Gourmet Live.” Gourmet Live. Condé Nast Digital, 6 Dec. 2011. Web. 24 Dec. 2011. <http://live.gourmet.com/2011/12/the-history-of-santa-and-christmas-cookies/>.
-McCann, Michael. “Santa Claus:Where Did That Guy in the Red Suit Come From?.” Austin Web Design Company – Austin Website Hosting – Lone Star Internet. The Business Cafe, n.d. Web. 24 Dec. 2011. <http://www.lone-star.net/mall/main-areas/xmas-santa-origin2.htm>.
-”The Pagan’s Path ~ Witchcraft & Shamanism – Who Is Santa Claus.” The Pagan’s Path ~ Education Network. Spring Wolf, 1 Nov. 2011. Web. 24 Dec. 2011. <http://www.paganspath.com/magik/yule-history2.htm>.
-”Why People Put Out Food For Santa – Legend Behind Putting Food For Santa.” Lifestyle Lounge – Online Lifestyle Magazine – Lifestyle Management Tips. iloveindia.com, n.d. Web. 24 Dec. 2011. <http://lifestyle.iloveindia.com/lounge/why-people-put-out-food-for-santa-7867.html>.
-”Why do People Put Out Food for Santa?.” wiseGEEK: clear answers for common questions. Conjecture Corperation, n.d. Web. 24 Dec. 2011. <http://www.wisegeek.com/why-do-people-put-out-food-for-santa.htm>.
Photos, in order of appearance: