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Why All the Cookies?

December 13, 2018

Growing up Jewish, there’s a lot I don’t get about Christmas.

It’s not that I haven’t been exposed to it. Christmas is everywhere. And actually, as a young kid growing up in New York City I decorated trees, sung carols, sat on Santa’s lap, and checked out the shop windows every year.

Only after moving down to Miami, where I was enrolled in a Jewish day school, did I learn what it meant to be Jewish. Although, for some people, their Jewish identity is entirely about not celebrating Christmas. Thankfully, I’m not one of those folks.

There’s a lot about Christmas that I love, and I’ll never turn down an invitation to Christmas dinner, or a Christmas party. I take delight in the annual arrival of Christmas cards. Which isn’t to say that I’m great about giving Christmas presents. I’m not. We’re also not really into the whole tree thing. That said, I do love basking in the glow of a freshly cut tree.

What I’m am little confused about are all the cookies.

Specific sweets and treats make some amount of sense to me. Candy canes are traditional, I get that. Eggnog is an indulgent winter warmer, full of spice, cream, and booze. A yule log? Okay. Maybe that’s a little weird, but again, totally celebratory. Plus, the log plays into the whole tree thing. And what’s more celebratory than a croquembouche! They have Christmas in France too.

But cookies? Just massive, endless spreads of cookies? Cookie swaps and cookie parties? Where the heck does that come from?

The Jewish culture has its own cookie holiday: Purim, it’s just not in the winter. And it surrounds one very specific cookie: hamentashen. But it involves going around giving gift packages to friends, family, and neighbors.

Is this about cookies being gifts?

All I know is that Little Miss Fussy just attended a cookie swap last night, and has another cookie party lined up for Sunday. I’ve been sampling a few of these cookies, and it’s just too much. Just too much.

Maybe I’m just a cookie grinch. Especially since there are only a few cookies I love, and the way I like cookies is not the way most people like cookies: Crispy and not all that sweet. It probably doesn’t help matters much that last night I discovered my daughter loves peppermint bark, which may be one of the worst things ever.

So tell me about cookies. And if you don’t know why they are a thing, maybe you can share your favorite ones for the holiday.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Marco permalink
    December 13, 2018 11:12 am

    I believe it has something to do with conviviality and coffee. When people come to visit for Christmas, pre or post, they like to converse over cookies and coffee. As long as I can remember, cookies were at the homes of friends and relatives before, during and after Christmas into the New Year. Cookies of all shapes and sizes. I love them with freshly brewed coffee when well made with good ingredients along with good conversation.

  2. Jenny permalink
    December 13, 2018 11:21 am

    Here is a good explanation. Feasting and gifting. And, as with many Christmas traditions,roots in the Winter solstice celebration. https://www.history.com/news/the-medieval-history-of-the-christmas-cookie

  3. December 13, 2018 11:30 am

    I come from a family of cookie bakers. My grandmothers, aunts, mother, five sisters, cousins – we all bake and share cookies with family and friends at Christmas. Cookies are baked, frozen and always on hand. If you have unexpected company, you have treats to share. If you are going somewhere, you have a gift to bring.

    My mom, sisters and I spend the Saturday after Thanksgiving at our annual cookie bake. It’s a way to share time with family engaging in an activity we all enjoy. It’s a great start to the holiday season.

    Baking is chemistry in your kitchen. Each time you mix flour, butter, eggs, etc. you conduct an experiment. Sometimes the experiment flops and you have to try again. But when it works, you not only end up with a delicious treat, you have a physical expression of caring and love to share with someone else.

  4. Dave permalink
    December 13, 2018 11:39 am

    Cookies kept. Read old recipes for Xmas cookies, a lot of them say things like “improve with age” or “best in 2 weeks.” You could have them on hand easily for guests or gifts through the holidays.

    Also, in our not-to-distant past most of us were poor and something sweet and pointless like a cookie was a notable and happy thing.

    Being old and Dutch (like the word cookie) this part of NY may have an especial affinity for cookies.

  5. Jen Sternfeld permalink
    December 13, 2018 1:35 pm

    German tradition has spice or gingerbread cookies used to decorate the tree or house.

    Also all the pricey spices (and butter/cream/sugar) were saved for special occasions, so holiday times make sense.

  6. chrisck permalink
    December 13, 2018 6:53 pm

    I come from a German family and Christmas cookies are very big in our culture. But not just any old cookie — we had specific cookies for Christmas (think Lebkuchen, Springerle, Zimtsterne, Kipferl) that were not made other times of the year. These are often very decorative as well as tasty (made with nuts, dried fruits, spices). Not blobs of dough dropped on a cookie sheet, but often shaped or molded into traditional forms. The advantage to cookies were that you baked many batches of them in advance and then had an array of cookies to serve during the holidays when friends and family came by. The cookie swap thing – no, we didn’t do that.

  7. Albany Chris permalink
    December 14, 2018 9:59 pm

    Just made shortbread cookies from the WSJ, they Included about 12 variations, we did Myer lemon and thyme. Also made the speculoos from ATK. Both recipes are more about butter and texture and less about sugar. My wife did a cookie swap so we are deluged with them, but I’m pretty picky about what is worth the calories

  8. December 16, 2018 12:24 pm

    I have my grandmother to thank for combining her German heritage with my grandfather’s Italian one. So there were all sorts of Christmas cookies to be savored during the holiday season! I never got the recipe for her “honey balls”, but found the same recipe, with a different name, in a Jewish cookbook!

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