Why leave cookies for Santa? Not surprisingly, this tradition – like many yuletide practices – has its roots in paganism, specifically a commandment from the god Odin (himself often cited as the original inspiration for the jolly man). In the Codex Regius, a collection of Norse pagan scriptures, it’s recorded that Odin advises that “a gift looks for a gift” – one who gives will get treasures in return. During pagan Yule celebrations the leaving of gifts for spirits and deceased ancestors became a common practice.
With the advent of Christianity the worship of the old gods was supplanted by new icons, but the manner of worship remained the same.
In Europe, a huge feast was held on December 6th, Saint Nicholas Day. After the feast, children would leave out food and drink for Saint Nicholas who had been traveling all night and must be very hungry. in the morning it had been replaced with gifts. During the Protestant Reformation, the feast of Saint Nicholas was considered extravagant and gaudy and was discouraged, but people still wanted to honor Saint Nicholas with a feast and gifts. They moved their traditional feast to Christmas Eve and continued leaving out tasty tidbits for Saint Nicholas.
The form in which Santa is honored varies around the world. In France, children leave a sacrifice of beer and mince pie, in Denmark it’s rice pudding, and in Sweden the offering is coffee. In the United States, the sacrificial offering of cookies dates back only about a hundred years.Whether cookies will remain the gift of choice for another century remains to be seen. In Denver, a publicity campaign currently being run by Farmland bacon is asking Coloradans to leave bacon, instead of cookies, for Santa Claus with the company donating a pound of bacon to a food bank for every person who pledges to substitute pork for sugar. A recent survey by Cooking Light, meanwhile, finds Americans already leaving several other alternatives to cookies, including jicama and even vodka.
Odin would be (is?) happy.
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