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The Story Behind Santa’s Milk & Cookies

We here at Magnolia love a freshly baked cookie and a cold glass of milk before bed (hence our popular amenity, a Bedtime Milk & Cookies station). As we invite our guests to nibble away this holiday season, we can’t help but wonder about one very well-established Christmas tradition…how did Santa get hooked on milk & cookies?

Answer: we discovered there isn’t just one cookie crumb trail leading us to a single explanation – there are many theories! One belief is that the milk & cookie tradition is directly related to the history of the Christmas tree. In Germany, people created “Paradise Trees,” which were trees decorated with apples, cookies, and wafers. Santa would often snack on the edible decorations. Over time, the “Paradise Tree” merged with Christian traditions and became the version of the tree we know today; as Christmas tree decorations modernized, the idea of leaving snacks for Santa lingered.

Others like to link the tradition to Norse mythology. Odin, a very important god, rode an eight-legged spider horse named Sleipner. During Odin’s Yule hunting season, children would leave hay and treats out for Sleipner in hopes that Odin would stop by their houses on his travels and leave gifts for them in return. This tradition still lives on in Denmark, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Children in these countries leave treats out for Father Christmas’ horse in hopes that they’ll receive holiday goodies in return.

According to another story, leaving cookies & milk out is a very American tradition that commenced during the Great Depression in the 1930s. Parents wanted to teach their children to share what they had, no matter how little. This included cookies & milk for Santa (and maybe carrots for the reindeer if they were lucky!) For adults, it was important that children give to others & show gratitude for gifts they were fortunate enough to receive during an era of such economic strife. Almost a century after the Great Depression, kids still leave milk & cookies out for Santa – though whether they still do so out of the goodness of their little hearts may be up for debate!

We learned that Santa sips Guinness with his cookies from Irish kids, enjoys glasses of wine with his treats from French children, and munches on all the mincemeat pie he can while in Australia. Theoretically, Santa consumes a billion calories on Christmas Eve thanks to all his tasty treats. It’s probably a good thing he dons a forgiving suit and has to shimmy up and down chimneys all night long. And hey, the kids only spoil him once a year!