There aren’t many things more synonymous with Christmas than cookies. Ever since I was a kid, I’d look forward to the smell of a freshly baked batch wafting all over the house. This may get you to wonder why we make Christmas cookies.
Like many Christmas traditions, cookies originate from the rituals of solstice festivals from thousands of years ago. They gained traction in Germany and Holland in the 16th century and were brought over to North America in the 17th century, and the rest is history.
Read on to learn more about Christmas cookies’ origins. I’ve also included a delicious recipe for you to try out.
As with many things that are now synonymous with Christmas, Christmas cookies’ origins can be traced back to many millennia ago.
10,000 years ago, people celebrated the changes of seasons all over the world. Tribes and civilizations had solstice festivals in the regions we now know as Africa, Ireland, India, and Norway.
Food was typically a staple of these celebrations, which makes sense because winter was a harsh period of deprivation at this time in human civilization. Winter conditions made it hard to grow and harvest crops.
As a result, community members would gather what they could before it was too late to harvest and would feast together.
Naturally, these people didn’t just eat plant-based foods. They also hunted animals and prepared their meat to eat in the winter. With all this food and fermented drinks like wine and beer at the ready, only one thing was missing: dessert.
When the Middle Ages rolled by and Christianity spread, many European countries replaced their solstice traditions with Christmas. That, and the need for a treat to satisfy people’s sweet tooth paved the way for Christmas cookies to come into existence.
Now that I’ve answered the question regarding why Christmas cookies came to be, let’s move on to the question of who came up with them.
There are several schools of thought on this, but it’s widely believed that Christmas cookies are a product of German culture.
Many consider the Germans to be the fathers of Christmas baking in terms of cookies and other popular holiday treats. They even have a specific word for it, Weihnachtsplätzchen.
I can trace it back to the traditions of Middle Ages monasteries. In these establishments, the resident monks had sugar and various other Christmas cookie spices like ginger, cloves, and cinnamon to work with.
These ingredients, as well as butter and lard, were luxury items at the time. As a result, people only used them on special occasions, such as the Christmas holidays.
The word cookie originates from the Dutch term “koeptje.” Additionally, the Dutch were the ones who brought these delicious treats to North America in the 17th century.
They, along with German settlers, introduced decorative molds and cookie cutters to this newly discovered region. When these inventions spread, so did the prevalence of cookie recipes in cookbooks across the USA and Canada.
Centuries later, we simply can’t have Christmas festivities without cookies. What made Christmas cookies skyrocket in popularity was how easy it was to make them in advance and store them until Christmas time rolled by.
Also, it was easier for people to get into the giving spirit and gift cookies to neighbors and loved ones than it was with cakes or pies.
It was in the 20th century when Christmas cookies really took off. However, when did this happen exactly?
In the early 1900s, sugar was a luxury item in U.S. homes. Additionally, technologies like fridges and gas stoves still weren’t well established. Instead, people used to keep their food cold using ice boxes and cook on wood or coal stoves.
These less-than-ideal living conditions were caused by the Great Depression. After the 1930s ended and these harsh economic times blew over, Americans started to have fridges and gas stoves.
This allowed them to use chilled dough and maintain temperatures more precisely when cooking. As a result, baking delicious Christmas cookies became exponentially easier.
There are many Christmas cookie recipes out there, but this one for scrumptious, buttery vanilla sugar cookies might be my favorite.
One of the best things about this recipe is that it uses ingredients you’ll find in your pantry with no issues. Therefore, you won’t need to add any items to your Christmas shopping list.
Here are the ingredients you’ll need to bake these delicious Christmas treats:
- ¾ tablespoon of salt
- 450 g of all-purpose flour
- 1 ½ tablespoons of vanilla extract
- 225g of softened unsalted butter
- ¾ tablespoon of baking powder
- 1 large egg
- 220 g of granulated sugar
These quantities are enough to make three trays of mouthwatering vanilla sugar cookies.
- Preheat your oven to 350℉
- Prep three baking sheets with parchment paper
- Mix the sugar and butter well in a large bowl until they achieve a creamy texture
- Add salt, flour, and baking powder to the mixture
- Mix them in well until the mixture gets clumpy
- Place the dough on a flour-dusted counter and pat it together. Then, cut it in half and shape it into two equal-sized discs
- Roll out the dough discs and use a cookie cutter, or an alternative method, to press out the shapes
- Bake for ten minutes or until the cookies are golden
- Take the cookies out of the oven and let them cool on the baking sheets
- Grab a cookie and enjoy!
Do you ever wonder why we make Christmas cookies?
The answer goes all the way back to the 17th century when Dutch and German settlers brought these delicious treats with them to North America.
After the Great Depression ended and fridges and gas stoves became commonplace in American households, these delicious treats became a staple of the festive season.
Don’t forget to try out my delicious vanilla sugar cookie recipe!
Sarah is the founder of Baking Kneads, LLC, a blog sharing guides, tips, and recipes for those learning how to bake. Growing up as the daughter of a baker, she spent much of her childhood learning the basics in a local bakery.