It won’t feel like Christmas without cookies for Santa, and a Hanukkah table without latkes just doesn’t work!
Aside from our fond childhood memories of holiday feasts with the whole fam, where on earth do these traditions come from?
Read on to discover the secret history behind some of our favorite holiday treats:
1. Creating Santa’s Cookies
Leaving out cookies and milk for Santa is a time-honored tradition for many children on Christmas Eve.
But, believe it or not, this cute homage to the fellow in red didn’t simply originate as a parental ploy to eat more Christmas cookies.
The American version of this tradition started during the Great Depression of the 1930s, as an effort on the part of parents to teach children the importance of sharing hard-to-get treats with others.
Leaving a treat for Santa - or for any of the cultural figures around the world related to him - is nothing new.
If you take a peek into Norse mythology, children left out food for Norse gods during harvest season, hoping the gods would give them a gift, too.
2. Latkes, Donuts, and Kugel, Oh My!
Hanukkah, the festival of lights, celebrates the successful end of a Jewish revolt against their religious persecutors in the second century B.C.
Rebels that stayed to rebuild and rededicate their destroyed temple in Jerusalem had enough oil for only 1 day. When the oil lasted for eight days and nights, this miracle became part of the celebration, symbolized by the lighting of the menorah.
Since oil is such a big part of Hanukkah’s history, families tend to eat fried foods like latkes and donuts throughout the holiday.
If a Hanukkah miracle isn’t a good excuse for eating fried food, what is?
3. Yearlong Fruit Cake
You might crack plenty of jokes about fruitcake, but this flavorful fruit-and-nut loaf used to be considered the height of luxury in the 18th and 19th centuries - when the cost of sugar and fruit were especially high.
According to The Daily Meal, fruitcake’s legendary longevity is based on practicality.
Loaded with preservatives like sugar and booze, “they were originally intended to be baked at the end of the harvest season and saved to be eaten at the beginning of the harvest season the following year, for good luck,” reports the website.
4. Shh! Here’s a Candy Cane
Nothing says “Christmas Time” quite like a candy cane - we usually enjoy this sugary, minty treat only one time a year.
The signature shape of the candy cane is meant to look like a shepherd's staff, and, according to About.com, peppermint sticks were once given to children during a mass in seventeenth-century Cologne, Germany to keep them quiet and happy.
Peppermint sticks have been around a lot longer than that, though - and we have a feeling they’ll still be around many years from now, too.
5. All-American Rugelach
This tasty Jewish pastry is rolled with chocolate or dried fruit and nuts - not to mention plenty of Old World charm. Or so we thought.
While rugelach has some shared origins in older Austrian and Czech pastries, the version made in America today was invented on our own shores.
When cream cheese became popular in the late 1930s, Jewish cooks hopped on board and used the ingredient in many recipes, including this tasty holiday treat.
6. Eggnog Snob
Love it or hate it, rich, creamy eggnog has its origins in the English aristocracy. Which probably makes a McDonald’s eggnog milkshake an especially ironic affront to this ancient tradition - but sometimes you just have to have your ‘nog.
Based on a recipe for posset - a mixture of eggs and milk with a liberal helping of ale - eggnog was liberated from English snobbery during the 1700s, thanks to American settlers.
Our rebellious forefathers used ingredients from their own farms - and a splash of rum from the Caribbean - to ring in health and wealth during the holiday season.
We hope you have fun wow-ing friends and family with a little bit of food trivia this holiday season - and enjoy the hearty fruits and veggies on your table.
Does your favorite holiday dish have a storied history? Tell us the deets in your comments below: