Keep 'em believin' series Part VII
Do you remember the first thing you did when you jumped out of bed on Christmas morning as a child? I remember it like it was yesterday! I would run to the kitchen where we put our Christmas lists out for Santa Claus. Right next to our lists was a plate of cookies with milk.
Did he visit us? The evidence could always be found on that plate.
We always left a variety. We had about half a dozen types of cookies we would make every year at the beginning of December. My mother must have hid them, because we always had enough left to leave out a big plate on Christmas Eve. This in itself was magical. If I made cookies that far in advance, my kids would sniff those out like bloodhounds.
Before I would even look downstairs where our stockings and Christmas tree were, I wanted to know which type of cookies Santa selected off of the plate.
I wanted to know why he didn't eat them all. My parents told me it was because he would get too full. Or he didn't have time.
I also always felt a sense of kinship with Santa when he wouldn’t eat the cookies with raisins in them. I won’t eat those either!
And then there were cookies that were half eaten. It just made it so much more real! Like a whole cookie could just vanish in thin air, but if a cookie had a bite out of it had to be St. Nick. Strange logic, but I know I am not alone in thinking this. One of the number one tips for convincing your children that Santa is real is waking up to half eaten cookies on Christmas morning.
So cookies play a big part in creating the aura of Santa. Even my teenager gets into it. As the best baker in our family, it is her job to bake cookies for Santa on Christmas Eve (as noted above, if she makes them earlier they WILL disappear as fast as Santa rushes up the chimney if the kids wake up)
See, in our family, the rumor always was that you could only leave homemade cookies for Santa. Then during one mall visit to Santa, the kids asked him which cookies were his favorite. When he answered, “Oreos!” I shot this poor, unsuspecting man (with no ideas of our family traditions) dagger eyes. So just a note, let your local Santa know what type of cookies you serve, so he can answer in kind when your kids have inquiring minds.
So that year the kids insisted we leave Oreos. I have to admit, it was nice not baking (or making a child bake) at the last minute. So while I hold tight to my traditions, sometimes something new is ok too!
In that vein, I had to think about it when one of my children suggested we leave Santa charcuterie last year. Charcuterie night is a favorite snacky dinner at our house (and we are not nearly as Bougie as that sounds, it is literally cured meat on a plastic plate). But it just didn’t seem right to stray that far away from the status quo.
Which made me ask: Why is it that we leave cookies?
There are many theories as to how the tradition began. But in the United States it became popular during the Great Depression. Despite the severe economic hardships most families faced, parents wanted to teach their kids to share and to show appreciation for the gifts they were receiving. And it has been handed down to the generations after.
Which is likely why it was passed down to me that cookies needed to be handmade. My father was a child during the Great Depression, and my grandparents would not have been able to buy store bought cookies.
While families in other countries have similar traditions, what they leave out varies by their culture. In Ireland, many families leave out a pint of Guinness. And in France a glass of wine is common!
Worldwide, children also like to include the reindeer in this tradition. Carrots are easy. Reflecting again on my childhood, we did this. And the carrots would have bites out of them and be placed back in the kitchen. That made my youthful brain ask a lot of questions. Did Santa let the reindeer in the house? It makes much more sense to me to leave half eaten carrots outside, within view of the window. Of course, then you run the risk of some critter stealing it.
Lately the tradition has grown to making magical reindeer food and sprinkling it outside. I have done this with my kids. But one thing should change: DIY reindeer food usually has glitter in it. My youngest has spent the last year protesting microplastics in our oceans so I can’t stomach asking him to feed Santa's Reindeer with it.
So I found this recipe online courtesy of our friends across the pond, The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. What I love about this recipe is that while this recipe is bird friendly, it suggests using chili powder to keep the rodents away.
Wildlife friendly reindeer food
Ingredients and instructions
- A handful of wild bird seed
- A few rolled oats
- Some dried fruit, like cranberries (if you have a dog, please don't use grapes, raisins, sultanas or currants as these can be poisonous for them)
- Some dried insects - Rudolph and his bird friends love mealworms and waxworms (author’s note: I am going to leave these out because I would lose my kids)
- Some grated cheese
- A hint of chili powder - it helps keep Rudolph's nose glowing red and will stop squirrels and rodents from stealing the food before Rudolph arrives!
Mix it all together and sprinkle outside!
Let us know what your favorite snack is to leave out for Santa!
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