This Christmas Eve, millions of American children will leave out cookies and milk for Santa Claus to enjoy after his trip down their chimney with his bag of gifts. Some will add a few carrots for his trusty reindeer, as Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen and Rudolph need sustenance as well. We take a look the origins of this particular custom and how it varies among children in different countries throughout the world. Today in the United States, leaving out a plate of cookies (Oreos and classic chocolate chip are popular choices) and a glass of milk for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve is a well-established tradition among children. But it hasnБt always been that way. According to one theory, the cookies-and-milk custom is derived from an older tradition, when families would stuff stockings with goodies for Santa and hang them by the chimney, his preferred mode of entrance, as a welcoming gift. Now, however, those stockings are usually chock-full of treats and smaller gifts for the family members themselves. Leaving cookies and milk for SantaБand perhaps a few carrots for his reindeerБtook off as an American holiday tradition in the 1930s, during the Great Depression. In that time of great economic hardship, many parents tried to teach their children that it was important to give to others and to show gratitude for the gifts they were lucky enough to receive on Christmas.
Some 80 years later, many children still set out cookies and milk for Santa, whether out of the goodness of their hearts or (in less wholesome cases) as a bribe to receive more gifts from the jolly bearded man in the red suit. iStockphoto. com
The original roots of this holiday food tradition go back even furtherБall the way to ancient Norse mythology. Odin, the most important Norse god, was said to have an eight-legged horse named Sleipner, which he rode with a raven perched on each shoulder. During the Yule season, children would leave food out for Sleipner, in the hopes that Odin would stop by on his travels and leave gifts in return. Such a tradition continues today in countries such as Denmark, Belgium and the Netherlands, where children still believe that horses carry SantaБs sleigh instead of reindeer. On Christmas Eve, they leave carrots and hayБsometimes stuffed into shoesБto feed the exhausted animals. In return, they might hope to receive such holiday treats as chocolate coins, cocoa, mandarin oranges and marzipan.
Over the years, different countries have developed their own versions of the cookies-and-milk tradition. British and Australian children leave out sherry and mince pies, while Swedish kids leave rice porridge. Santa can expect a pint of Guinness along with his cookies when delivering toys in Ireland. French children leave out a glass of wine for PцЕre Noцl and fill their shoes with hay, carrots and other treats for his donkey, Gui (French for БmistletoeБ). In Germany, children skip the snacks altogether and leave handwritten letters for the Christkind, a symbolic representation of the Christmas spirit who is responsible for bringing presents on Christmas. Though many German kids mail their letters before the holidayБthere are six official addresses for letters addressed to the ChristkindБothers leave them out on Christmas Eve, decorated with sparkly glue or sugar crystals. On Christmas morning, the letters have been collected, and gifts left in their place. Part of the magic of Christmas is the wonder and delight on childrenвs faces at all of the sights and sounds that surround them during the holidays. The twinkling lights, the letters to Santa, the stories and carols are all part of the tradition that marks Christmas as a very special time.
In every part of the world, kids prepare a plate of cookies for Santaвs snack when he visits their homes on Christmas Eve. Itвs hard for children to sleep that night anticipating his visit, but good little boys and girls know he wonвt come until theyвre tucked snugly in bed with eyes shut! The tradition of leaving cookies for Santa is believed to have started at the time of the Great Depression by parents wanting to inspire their children to share with others, especially during a time of great need. Now kids happily leave cookies and milk for Santaвand often a carrot for his reindeer to share, knowing in the morning there will be just a few crumbs on the plate, and an empty glass signifying that the jolly old man enjoyed his treat! Traditions are important, and the ones you share with your children will eventually be passed on to their own families in the future. Why not make leaving cookies for Santa a special event? Choose a time to bake cookies together and let the little ones decorate the cookies theyвll be leaving for that jolly old elf. Santa doesnвt care if the cookies are slightly misshapen or garishly iced в he knows they were made with love and laughter!
Play Christmas carols and holiday music while you work together, and fill your kitchen with sugary aromas and lots of giggles. Itвs a little messy and a lot merry to build this tradition together. Allow the kids to stir the ingredients and sneak a taste. Let them decide on a pretty plate and glass for Santaвs snack, and help them write him a note to leave with the treat в something they can work on while the cookies bake. Smaller children can draw him a special picture to tuck in beside the plate. Share your own childhood Christmas memories while you work, and talk about other family traditions special to these holidays. Children will remember fun activities you do together every year and look forward to continuing them. You can even talk about adding some new traditions to your familyвs Christmas: new pajamas for everyone for Christmas Eve, searching for and cutting your own fresh tree, or sleeping around the Christmas tree one night during the season! Soon everyone will be contributing ideas and youвre sure to find one thatвs simple and fun, destined to become another anticipated family tradition! Itвs much more than simply making cookies with your children в youвre making cherished memories!