Beyond Cookies & Milk
On his journey across the globe, Santa feasts on a variety of Christmas Eve treats.
Santa Claus is coming to town, and in American households, that means leaving a plate of cookies and a glass of milk out on Christmas Eve—a tradition dating back to the 1930s during The Great Depression.
But the snacks left for St. Nick, or his cultural equivalent, aren’t the same all around the globe. In England, it’s shortbread cookies, while in Australia, he finds mince pie to munch on.
This year, try some of the other conventions from around the world. And while you’re at it, pair the scrumptious treats with something a little more sophisticated than milk.
Across the pond in England, Santa Claus, dubbed “Father Christmas” in 17th-century Britain, is decked out in a long red or green robe when he arrives at families’ homes with an empty stomach. Traditionally, Brits leave out mince pie and a carrot for Father Christmas to munch on, but in recent years he’s been polishing off a plate of shortbread cookies—a favorite English teatime snack—in exchange for filling kids’ stockings and pillowcases, which are tacked to fireplaces or to their foot of beds, with edible delights.
Suggested Pairing: Champagne is the perfect bubbly for the buttery shortbread cookies, says Elizabeth Schneider, CSW, owner of the wine education company Wine for Normal People. “The aging process in the traditional method of Champagne making ensures a biscuity, bready flavor that will go perfectly with shortbread.”
Just make sure to select a sparkler that’s either demi-sec (sweet) or doux (very sweet). “The rule with dessert is that the wine should always be sweeter than the food,” says Schneider.
In Germany, meanwhile, children welcome Sankt Nikolaus with footwear on their doorsteps. While stinky sneakers don’t sound so Santa-friendly, it apparently does the trick: St. Nick fills the shoes of those on the nice list with oranges, candies and coins. And those who have been naughty slip into shoes filled with twigs. The festivities are celebrated in early December to mark the good Saint’s passing on December 6, 343 AD.
Suggested Pairing: A German Riesling is the perfect companion to the fruity treats stuffed in footwear. Pick a bottling that has hints of honey, with acid that stands up to strong flavors. “The acidic quality of a Riesling makes acidic foods like fruits feel smoother in your mouth,” Schneider says.
In Denmark, children leave out a bowl of rice pudding for Nisse, a mythical Scandinavian figure who has been known to cause mischief if his snack is missing. The tradition dates back to the 1840s, when Danish folklore says Nisse, who has a weakness for sweets, protected the homes of farmer’s who left out a bowl of porridge for him on Christmas night.
Suggested Pairing: Pair the rice pudding with a Gewürztraminer from Alsace. Schneider says the wine’s cardamom and lychee flavors round out the oily mouthfeel of the dish. The creamy pudding’s “cinnamon and nutmeg flavors…create an experience reminiscent of a cup of warm, spiced tea on a cold day.”
While making his Australian house stops, Santa expects to munch on many a mince pie. Originally an English tradition, kids were encouraged to leave the dish out on the night before Christmas. If Santa eats the pie, it symbolizes good luck in the coming year.
Suggested Pairing: There’s nothing better to pair with a mince pie than an Australian Grenache. “The spiciness and full, soft texture in these wines complements the fruit, dough and icing of the pie without stealing the show,” says Schneider. “Bold fruit flavors like raspberry and red cherry,” when paired with a Grenache, create “a sangria-like flavor” in the pie.
In case Santa is not crazy about Grenache, he can also sip on a Muscat from Rutherglen, Victoria. Since they’re soft, sweet and fruity, Schneider says, these wines are ideal counterparts to mincemeat. Muscats “have a caramel flavor that’s dotted with aromas of orange, raisin, and honey.”
It’s the American way to place a plate full of chocolate chip or sugar cookies on your kitchen counter for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve—and don’t forget the glass of milk. It’s a tradition dating back to the Great Depression.
Suggested Pairing: While milk does a body good, this Christmas the chocolate chip cookies call for another classic mate: ruby or vintage Port. “You can’t beat chocolate and Port,” says Schneider. Port’s espresso, blackberry and chocolate flavors perfectly complement the cookies’ bittersweet morsels.
A tawny Port, aged 10 or 20 years, complements sugar cookies, imbuing them with nut and fig flavors that add richness and depth.