Santa loves his cookies. After all, it’s one of the most special traditions of Christmas Eve night–to leave Santa his share of cookies on a plate, alongside a tall glass of cold milk. But where did this special tradition get its roots? And why does everyone, even Santa, eat cookies and so many other sweets around Christmas time?

Hundreds of years ago when celebrating Christmas first became an international pastime, sugar was a very expensive commodity. It wasn’t something to be enjoyed every day, unless you were fabulously wealthy. The only times ordinary folks ate sugary treats was on special occasions, like high holy days, birthdays, and weddings. And of course, the only people who could get their hands on treats were close family members, friends, and very important people, such as Santa Claus.

So when people had the chance to have sweet treats, they went all out. Cookies became all the rage in Europe, even as far back as the Middle Ages. Each country in Europe came up with their own special favorite type of cookie. Germans loved to make ginger bread cookies and butter cookies called Spritz. Swedish families baked ginger and pepper cookies, prized as much for their spiciness as their sweetness. And believe it or not, British folks took a liking to fruit cake.

In the United States, where immigrants from all over Europe came in the 1800s and 1900s, all of these cookie traditions came too. So instead of favoring one type of Christmas cookie, Americans have the good fortune of having a lot of different cookies to choose from. Americans also added their own touch to the Christmas cookie tradition. Beginning in the early 1900s, Americans started making metal cookie cutters, with funny shapes like Christmas trees, angels, and reindeer, and they used these cutters to make cookies of every shape and color.

Of course, some folks have visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads come Christmas. We may not leave a plate of sugar plums out for Santa on Christmas Eve, but these candied treats are still an important part of the holiday tradition. Technically, sugar plums are seeds coated with confectionary sugar, and they date back almost as far as Christmas cookies. According to the accounts of the day, people enjoyed sugar plums during the holidays as far back as the middle of the 1600s.

Of course, possibly the most famous sweet holiday treat, or should we say infamous, is the fruit cake. As we mentioned earlier, we can blame the British for this. It was in the Middle Ages that this treat started, but back then, it probably was more edible than it is today. The fruit cake of yesteryear was more a bread, with some dried fruit mixed in, more like today’s raisin bread.

Nowadays, fruit cake is a glazed over, fruity feast. Back in the day, these types of cakes were considered only worthy of the very rich. Today, fruit cake has become a traditional holiday joke. And no, don’t leave a slice for Santa.

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