“Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum!”
~Santa Claus, probably, right? Maybe?
Today is Christmas Eve, that day where you silently complain about the fact that you had to use a vacation day in order to travel back home for the holidays. For some, it’s an important part of the Christmas tradition, and for others, it’s a day you anxiously power through waiting expectantly for Christmas to finally show up. And for most of us, it’s a day where oh shit you totally forgot to wrap your presents didn’t you, okay well you should get that shit down and chuck it under the tree before someone notices.
Now, a few days ago we told you about the worst Christmas treats out there. There was reindeer poop and fruitcake and oh God figgy pudding why as well as a bunch of other horrific British concoctions and it was pretty much awful. But hey, Christmas is tomorrow, some of you are working a half day or some nonsense like that, so let’s just talk about some Christmas treats that you’d actually want to eat instead. Because America does actually know a thing or twelve about making Christmas delicious.
The Best Holiday Treats of Christmas
There are a lot of desserts out there that you might associate with Christmas, but might be more regionally based. Frango mints were a staple for many Chicago Christmases. You New Yorkers go crazy for Mallomars. We really wanted to talk about hot chocolate here, but then we got shouted down because hot chocolate is pretty much a “whenever it’s cold outside” drink, and we’d be doing it a disservice by limiting it to Christmas. We’ll probably not talk about a very important Christmas treat that you grew up with, and be sure to take to the comments section with that and tell us we’re wrong. We might even agree with you on some! That’s right, it’s entirely possible we won’t call you stupid for suggesting items that we missed! It’s a Christmas miracle!
Anyway, here are some Christmas treats that can brighten even the coldest Christmas morn.
There are two kinds of yule logs out there. One is a big old wooden long that you set on fire because Christmas or something, and the other is a delicious cake that’s filled with icing and chocolate. It originated in France, because back in the 1800s when England was busy cramming figs and prunes into everything, France occupied most of their time by learning how to cook things people would want to eat, with the remainder of their free time spent learning to run away from things.
The yule log is simple and everything you’d want from a Christmas treat. Chocolate and cream and cake, combined into an unhealthy dessert, and given a Christmas-y name. Cut it in slices, eat it, and be thankful you have one relative who knows what’s up and brought the yule log instead of some damn fruitcake. Good call, Aunt Sheryl.
Peppermint is a flavor that’s available all year long, but outside of Christmas it finds itself relegated to dinner mint duty. There’s no particular reason why peppermint gets the short end of the straw the rest of the year, but due to a combination of tradition and, well, the fact that red is one of the colors of Christmas, you’ll probably have more peppermint in December than the rest of the year combined.
We don’t have a problem with that fact, because peppermint is pretty delicious, and it allows us to make peppermint bark, which is crazy delicious. Combining layers of white chocolate, dark chocolate, and crumbled up peppermint candy pieces (usually from candy canes, which we’ll get to later) putting peppermint bark out at a holiday gathering is a great way to amuse yourself as you watch your guests try to coyly grab a few pieces of the treat, trying to give an air of, “oh, peppermint bark you say? Sure, I suppose I could have just maybe half a piece” until it starts to run out at which point everyone is fighting each other for the last piece and everything slowly devolves into pure anarchy, bodies flailing at each other trying to get the last crumbs of deliciousness.
All except for Lester, who sits back and watches the chaos. For half a second you think you see flames flickering in the reflection on the lens of his glasses. Lester, who never even made a move for the peppermint bark. As if he knew what would happen. For a moment, he looks at you and you think you see a small spasm of movement at the corner of his lips, which immediately reverts back to motionlessness. When finally, the peppermint bark has been devoured, and your guests begrudgingly settle back into their seats and poke and prod at the other, lesser appetizers and treats you’ve left you, still Lester stands, almost as if only you can see him. Almost as if…he never left. Wait, can they see him? How do you even know Lester? He just appeared, after the accident. Oh God. The accident. You remember it all now. Your guests, trying to make up for their past near-riot mumble thanks for the snacks, compliments for the peppermint bark, but it sounds like they’re underwater. The accident. Lester looks at you. His eyes are hollow.
He smiles, and you hear screams.
…Um. What we mean to say is, peppermint bark is really good. Really good. Yup. Great. If you bring peppermint bark to a holiday party, you’re probably the hero of that party.
Yes. Hero. *stares off wistfully into the distance*
Candy canes have been associated with Christmas for hundreds of years, meaning that generations of children have grown up eating delicious peppermint sticks and making everything they touch sticky afterwards. Some say that they were created in 1670 in Cologne, Germany, after a choirmaster at the local cathedral asked a candy maker to make sweet sticks in order to quiet the children attending his services. The stick was then given a crook to help the children remember the shepherds who visited baby Jesus, and the color white was to be incorporated to remind everyone of Jesus’ sinless life, with red representing his blood. You may have heard this story before, or you may just be reading it now, but you probably were thinking when you first heard it, “Oh, that makes sense.” Too bad that this is essentially nice-sounding bullshit.
In reality, the first recipe for peppermint candy sticks (without the crook) came out around 1844, was first seen mentioned as a Christmas treat in about 1874, and was first described as being hung on a Christmas tree in 1882. The striped pattern didn’t become the norm until about 1900. So, while no one knows why the canes got their trademark hook shape, the most likely reason seems to be…people wanted to hang the candy on their Christmas trees. The J-shape of the candy cane lends itself perfectly to hanging on a tree, and there probably isn’t much more to it than that. But we’re not here to talk about people trying to give flashy stories to candies we like, we’re here to talk about the actual treats. And candy canes are delicious (though, we must say, not as delicious as peppermint bark).
There are two reasons why everyone likes peppermint bark more than candy canes, despite the iconic hooked confectionery stick’s important historic role in the Christmas season. The first and most obvious benefit of peppermint bark is the addition of chocolate. Chocolate makes everything better. It makes marshmallows better! It makes strawberries better! It makes grasshoppers kinda less gross to think about eating! So yes, sprinkling candy cane bits on top of chocolate is going to just make everything even better. But the other reason why it’s better is utility.
Simply put, eating candy canes are a pain in the ass. A huge pain in the ass. It’s impossible to get through a whole candy cane without needing to spend about five minutes washing the liquid sugar stick off your hands. When you’re a kid, this is fun—you clench your hand together and watch the skin sorta stick together for a second before letting loose and it’s that gross/cool dichotomy that kids love. When you’re an adult, it’s a pain in the ass, because you have to hunt down a sink and wash your hands before you can check your phone. If you’re an adult with a kid who just ate a candy cane, candy canes are a punishment sent by Satan specifically to ruin your day, as you’re going to chase around your kid (who now has a sugar high) with a moist toilette before he or she precedes to put her sticky hands on everything within reach, which will almost certainly include the leather seats of your car. Mother fucker, you just had the upholstery touched up. Goddamn candy canes.
Terry’s Chocolate Orange
Terry’s Chocolate Orange skirts that line between being a treat you’ve never heard of, or a treat that you absolutely love to get every Christmas. For those unfamiliar, it’s a sphere of orange-flavored chocolate, shaped as an Orange, split into individual slices and wrapped in foil. These are all connected together until you take the orange and smash it on a hard service, which jars the slices loose. It’s delicious, because it’s chocolate mixed with orange, and it’s fun, because you get to break things.
This is almost enough to make up for the rest of the crappy Christmas treats England has tossed our way. The Terry’s Chocolate Orange has been around since about 1931 (the first version, five years earlier, was a chocolate apple, because England can’t do anything right the first time around as far as food is concerned) and has been delicious ever since. They focus their advertising of the product around the Christmas season, so while this product is associated with Christmas, it’s mainly because a PR firm thought it would be a good idea.
That said, if you ask anyone who gets a Terry’s Chocolate Orange in their stocking if they’re upset about that, the answer will always be, “Hell no, now give that back to me, I’m gonna get my chocolate on, smashy smashy.”
Now, we’re on record with being pretty ambivalent about gingerbread as a flavor. It’s just okay. There’s not much special going on there. You use it more to make fun shapes than to make something you actually want to eat. But gingerbread men still represent Christmas, and they are a treat that you’ll even enjoy eating on Christmas (maybe while chomping off one leg at a time while going in a high pitch voice, “oh no, why, oh God, I was an Olympic sprinter, my livelihood is ruined”). This might be the “worst” of the good holiday treats, but it’s still a good holiday treat. It’s just sweetened bread. There’s nothing wrong with that.
Gingerbread houses are some bullshit though. A gingerbread man, you’ll at least eat right away. Gingerbread houses are fun to build, and then slowly get stale and harden into a brick that can be used to smash in storefront windows if you were the kind of monster who would smash in a storefront window with a gingerbread house for no reason.
And finally, we come down to the part of Christmas that can get you drunk. You can drink this mixture of milk, cream, sugar, and whipped eggs, and cinnamon or nutmeg without pouring the requisite brandy, rum, or bourbon in it, but if you’re doing so we’re going to have to assume that you’re 10 years old and your parents aren’t as cool as us.
Some people don’t like eggnog. They think that it’s too rich, it’s too thick, it has its own unique color that’s somewhere between white and yellow, and that any attempt to turn it into a punch results in a un-mixable sheen of alcohol resting on top of it. These people might be factually correct about a lot of that, but spiritually, they’re dead wrong.
Eggnog is the perfect Christmas drink because there’s only one or two times a year where you actually would want for it to be made available, otherwise, yes, it’d be a heavy milky mess, we as a nation would weigh about fifty pounds per capita more, and all shirts would have weird stains in the armpit region that won’t come out no matter how much you try to wash them. If we loved egg nog all year, it’d be disastrous.
But the joy of eggnog is that you have it once or twice a year, so you have plenty of time to misremember how much you actually like it. That first sip of eggnog is delirious delight. Where have you been all year? So rich, so decadent, cinnamon and nutmeg, so delicious, actually let’s put another nip of bourbon in this, oh yes, much better, so rich, so decadent. Then about five sips in, you think, Oh God, what am I doing? Why am I still drinking this? This is so thick, so filling, there’s a table full of hors d’oeuvres, I mean, the American version of that, snacks, right, but God this is too much, I could be drinking beer for fuck’s sake. And then, finally, at the end, when you’ve finished your drink, with its healthy booze kick, you think, I am drunk that was delicious and never touch the stuff again for another year, at which point the cycle starts all over again.
Eggnog is the perfect Christmas treat, because you only drink it on Christmas if you want to actually like it. And when you do that, it’s perfect.
So there you have it, America. There might be other treats that are part of your Christmas tradition that you dearly love, and we’re not here to say that they’re wrong. All your favorite Christmas treats are perfectly wonderful and valid.
Unless you’re making fruitcake. Get that shit out of here, come on.
Merry Christmas, everyone.