Shimmying up and down chimneys all night will leave anyone famished. It’s probably why children across the globe leave dear old St Nicholas—our beloved Santa Claus—a plate full of homemade treats and goodies, before they go to sleep on Christmas Eve.
Have you ever wondered why is Santa Claus is always received by a welcoming committee of sweet confections? While there are many theories about the origin of this act, a popular one suggests that the tradition began in American, during the Great Depression in the 1930s. Parents wanted to teach their children the importance of sharing even during an era of such economic strife. In his ‘Christmas in America: A History’ Penne L. Restad writes “The Santa myth made available a personage that could further the child’s understanding of religion and fortify symbolically the parent’s own sense of the same…The ceremony of Santa Claus may explain in a very literal way the nature of primary religious experience.”
Another story suggests that the history of leaving food out is actually linked to Saint Nicholas of Myra, today Demre, on the southwest coast of Turkey. He spent his life helping those in need, especially children, which is why on his death anniversary, celebrated as a feast—St. Nicholas Day, December 6. On this day children would leave food and drinks for him, which would be exchanged with gifts overnight. After the Protestant Reformation movement in Europe, in 16th century, a lot of Christian traditions saw a change and as a process the importance of December 6 was lost. The practice of leaving treats moved to December 24, Christmas Eve.
Yet another elaborate European theory suggests that the modern-day tradition of leaving milk and cookie stemmed from solstice-themed pre-Christian religious rituals that gained momentum throughout Europe, when ancestral spirits were offered food in exchange for blessings. Whatever the reason, children continue to leave nibbles out for the jolly old man before they turn in for the night. While some families stick to the classic cookies and milk, others leave him ice-cold beers or a coffee and at times even puddings or cake. Some families even make sure that Santa’s ride, his reindeers, are refuelled by leaving behind treats such as carrots, water or hay for them.Also read: How to bake a Christmas fruit cake
Families in different countries honour the gift-bearing old chap in their own way:
In America, Santa Claus is known for his penchant for cookies and milk. As per the 1934 Christmas song, Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town, sung by Eddie Cantor clearly states, “…He's making a list and checking it twice; Gonna find out who's naughty and nice; Santa Claus is comin' to town…”, very representative of the times during the Great Depression. To make sure the stickler for discipline is lenient to them, the kids leave him some fresh-out-of-the-oven cookies along with a warm glass of milk to wash it all down.
When in Australia, he gets to enjoy his Christmas Eve journey with a pint of chilled beer. Here St Nicholas’ role as the patron saints of brewers comes to good use. Bringing good tidings and cheer is no easy task, and, who wouldn’t love a glass of nice cold beer at the end of the day! At times, kids also leave him some cookies and milk, and a few carrots for his reindeer.
As Santa Claus journey’s back to the northern hemisphere, to Sweden, he takes on a local avatar. As per Swedish folklore, Tomte is the local bearer of good wishes and gifts. Similar to Santa Claus, Tomte is also characterized by red clothing and flowing white beard. He is more gnome than a man and prefers a bowl of porridge with a cut of butter. A similar tale and character exists in Norwegian folklore, this gentleman is known as Nisse.
Also read: 6 easy baking hacks for your Christmas spree
Danes take great pride in the fact that Denmark is the first stop for Santa Claus’ whirl-wind 24-hour journey around the Earth. Risengrød or rice pudding is what Santa Claus gets to eat at a Danish home. Traditionally prepared especially during Christmas and the star of every Christmas menu, this rice pudding is the finest that Denmark has to offer, and you’d always want to offer guests the best.
Sinterklaas, as Santa Claus is known in the Netherlands, is the Dutch incarnation of St Nicholas of Myra. It is also believed that Dutch immigrant took Sinterklaas to Americas who evolved into the modern Santa Claus. Children also leave treats of carrots, hay, and water for his horse rather than the old man himself.
Argentinian kids spoil Santa's horses by leaving them hay and water. In the neighbouring country of Chile, Santa Claus becomes Viejo Pascuero or Papa Noel and he is treated to local Christmas speciality of pan de Pascua, a spongy, rich rum cake with the goodness of dried fruits and nuts.
In Britain, Santa Claus or Father Christmas is in for a yummy treat. Kids leave him traditional mince pies with a glass of sherry. While in Ireland, the sherry is replaced by a pint of Irish stout, preferably Guinness!
We’re well into the night now, and Santa has probably eaten more than he could stomach. But, now that he’s fulfilled his official duties, he can take a break. Ask us, we’d totally recommend a post-festive detox, and if not, at least some exercise.
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