Note: My mom’s weekly column for our local newspaper talks about Christmas cookies. I’ll add my next entry about my cookie-making in China, with pictures.
Walking about Town, by Priscilla Wieck
December blew in last week, bringing our coldest temps so far. I have had to retrieve my winter coat from the far reaches of the closet and my knit hat from winter storage to be able to continue our daily walks. Dog Bridget, however, has gloried in the wind and cold, prancing and chasing around like a pup. She surely is a winter dog because she begs to remain outside when it is sunny, snug in her doggie bed even after a cold walk.
In December, walking in the town of Marshall becomes more interesting due to all the Christmas decorations that suddenly appear after Thanksgiving. During November, we walked the fair grounds in the late afternoon and followed with interest the assembling of the annual Festival of Lights. We will visit the result of all those volunteer hours of work put forth by our Christmas Committee in a few days. Many thanks to all those who spend so much time and effort to make our holiday season brighter.
Also in December, Christmas cookies become a subject of interest. This year, there seems to be a full-fledged debate occurring about the worthiness of those delectable morsels. Rex Huppke began this debate in his column of November 27th in the Chicago Tribune. Rex, who is a bit of a curmudgeon in my opinion, opened his column with this simple statement: “Nobody actually likes Christmas cookies.”
Huppke further claimed that we only make them because of tradition and we only eat them because of the frosting. Why else would so many people “offload the goodies they are given on friends and neighbors if they like them so much?” he asked.
I would debate Huppke on this subject. I happen to like Christmas cookies. In fact, in years past I actually enjoyed making them.
His column started me wondering just which Christmas cookie is the most popular among bakers and eaters. I would have guessed a cut out frosted Santa or tree, but no. General Mills Kitchens reports that the most requested holiday recipe in 2019 was for Peanut Butter Blossoms. I assume those are the ones made into little balls with Hersey Kisses on top. They are good but I prefer a thin, orange-zest flavored cut-out sugar cookie, the kind my mother so laboriously and lovingly made each year.
Contrary to Huppke’s posit, maybe we like Christmas cookies because they bring back a little taste of home with fond memories. Maybe we enjoy making them because as we do, we envision the enjoyment others will have when eating them. And just maybe we offer them to friends and family out of the joy of giving something of ourselves.
So that ends my debate with Mr. Huppke. Who do you think won?
A History of the Christmas Cookie
How did this Christmas cookie business get started, anyway?
To find out, I consulted my somewhat reliable resource Wikipedia and found that the making of special holiday foods began hundreds of years ago when the Druids celebrated Winter Solstice — sort of a feast-before-winter-famine idea. Later, when trade routes from the far east were developed, spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger were available to home cooks. Recipes for biscuits (the Brits’ name for cookies) can be traced to Medieval Europe with additional ingredients of almonds, black pepper and dried fruit.
The earliest examples of today’s goodies were brought to America by the Dutch in the early 17th century. When the Germans introduced the first tin cookie cutters in the 1800’s, popularity of a frosted cut-out cookie really blossomed. Recipe books featured ways to incorporate the various shapes into the holiday decorations by hanging them on Christmas trees as well as serving them to guests. It wasn’t until the 1930’s that someone came up with the idea of pairing those cookies with milk and setting them out for Santa.
Many different countries have contributed to the variety of Christmas cookies that modern day families enjoy. The ones we seem to cherish the most are made from those recipes that have been handed down in our own individual families.
We should never underestimate the importance of the humble cookie. It is one of the many traditions that holds our families together throughout the years. So, eat up and enjoy!
“A balanced diet is a Christmas cookie in each hand.”–Anonymous