CHICOPEE, Mass. (WWLP) – Why are roasted chestnuts, smoked or baked ham, fruit cakes, specialty cookies, and eggnog popular on Christmas? 

Different foods are a major part of the culture of the holiday, according to The Spruce Eats. Although these foods are used in various ways during the year, they are all intended to be eaten solely during this time of the year.

These dishes listed are traditional Christmas foods:

  • Roast Goose: Before farm-raised poultry was around, families who lived off the land had to choose which animals to eat on special occasions because hens provided the eggs and cows provided the milk. Geese were cooked because they laid eggs only seasonally.
  • Turkey: Families started to grow in numbers and one goose wasn’t enough to feed multiple people. Turkeys were cheaper to raise than other birds, and since they were born in the spring, they grew to a good size for a meal when it was time for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
  • Glazed Ham: A boar’s head was the centerpiece on the wealthiest holiday tables in Tudor England. For those who could not afford a boar’s head, a Yule ham took its place, as it was more affordable and equally delicious.
  • Panettone: Some say that the sweet Milanese bread was created in the 1400s by the Duke’s falconer and his love Adalgisa, a poor baker’s daughter. The two created a rich bread that revived the bakery’s business, and at Christmas, they added dried fruit and citron. Others say that as a “Pane di Tono” or luxury bread, the lofty loaf has expensive ingredients and long proofing and preparation time, and was reserved for Christmas.
  • Gingerbread Houses: They became popular after the Grimm brothers published Hansel and Gretel. In parts of Europe in the 17th century, only professional gingerbread makers were allowed to bake gingerbread year-round. That restriction was lifted during Christmas and Easter.
  • Plum Christmas Pudding: The tradition of eating plum pudding is said to have originated with a Roman Catholic Church decree to make a 13-ingredient pudding to represent Christ and the apostles. On the informally named “Stir It Up Sunday,” families made this pudding by taking turns stirring the batter from east to west to commemorate Magi’s journey.
  • Bûche de Noël: The Bûche de Noël is a log-shaped cake that is meant to evoke the Yule log that burned in European homes throughout Christmas, as well as the massive decorated logs that Celts burned outside to celebrate the winter solstice. The term “yule” refers to this day of the year.
  • Fruitcake: The recipes for the heavily fruit-laden fruitcakes we associate with Christmas today have their roots in the Middle Ages. In the days of hard-to-regulate wood-burning ovens, cake baking was tricky, and taking the risk of burning precious and expensive ingredients was only reserved for the knowledgeable and only during special occasions.
  • Mincemeat: Mincemeat, in its original incarnation of a mixture of chopped meat mixed with dried fruits, sugar, and spices was a way to stretch the meat supply and to use leftovers. Over time, less meat was included in the recipe, so the mincemeat we know today is made from fruits, sugar, alcohol, and sometimes, suet.
  • Stollen: Stollen was first mentioned in 15th-century documents, though the recipe has changed since then. Originally it was an Advent meal eaten in monasteries, and the bland bread didn’t include fruit or butter. It took six decades of the Saxon nobility’s effort to obtain the Pope’s permit to include butter in the bread. Then, in 1491, the “Butter Letter” arrived and the recipe changed forever.
  • Eggnog: Eggnog is a variation of milk- and wine-based English punches that date back to the 17th century. Nogs were often for social occasions, to toast the health of those who partook.
  • Chestnuts: Chestnuts may have been one of the earliest foods eaten by humans, and unlike many traditional Christmas foods, they were not a rare luxury. Chestnuts grow wild and have been used historically as subsistence food.