Christmas cookies are a delicious and festive tradition that many people enjoy every year. Whether you prefer gingerbread, shortbread, sugar cookies or biscotti, there is a Christmas cookie recipe for everyone.

But have you ever wondered how this custom started and what makes it so popular in the UK?

Here, the team explore the history and recipes of Christmas cookies and give you some tips on how to make them at home.

And most of the recipes here offer the chance to create an impressive baking creation with a few ingredients that most people have at home or can easily buy.

What are Christmas cookies?

Pic of a decorated Christmas cookie and a drink - Christmas cookies - recipes and the historyA ‘traditional’ Christmas cookie will vary depending on the country you live in and the nostalgic recipes that have been passed down from older relatives.

Cookies and biscuits have been enjoyed as treats for hundreds of years, as they are a simple way to use leftover flour eggs and sugar.

In the Middle Ages, when spices such as nutmeg, cinnamon and ginger first became available, they were a luxury item. Baking with these warming flavours was more suited to colder winter weather, and so eventually gingerbread became synonymous with Christmas time. Austrian Lebkuchen and Linzer biscuits are now an important part of Yuletide all over the world.

The tradition of making Christmas cookies came to the UK from Germany. This led to people enjoying gingerbread and sugar cookies – and the use of cookie cutters to make intricate designs on their biscuits.

The British then adopted these cookies and added their own twists, such as adding jam, nuts, chocolate or icing. Some of the most famous British Christmas biscuits are shortbread and Florentines.

Today, Christmas cookies are a staple of the festive season in the UK. They are not only enjoyed as a snack or dessert, but also as a gift or a decoration.

Many families bake their own cookies at home, using traditional or modern recipes.

Which are the best cookies to leave out for Santa Claus?

In countries around the world, excited children will leave out treats for Santa and his hard-working reindeers on Christmas Eve. It’s a lovely tradition which teaches youngsters to think of others and that hard work can be rewarded with simple yet thoughtful gifts.

Carrots are perfect for Rudolph and his friends, but what about the main man? Cookies are the ideal option as they are easy for children to make, and the rest of the batch won’t go to waste!

If you want a Christmas cookie recipe that can be made ahead of time, but will still be delicious on Christmas Eve, consider gingerbread as they will last longer than sugar cookies. Gingerbread cookies also make a mouth-watering Christmas gift and go well with milk, beer or whisky (whatever Santa prefers!)

For the ‘World’s Best Gingerbread Cookie Recipe’ head to food blog Eat This, Not This! They also have an impressive selection of chocolate chip cookie recipes, another of Santa’s favourites.

Why do we leave cookies out for Santa Claus?

Pic of a model Santa Claus and presents for childrenThe tradition of leaving cookies out for Santa Claus has different origins in different cultures, but one of the most common explanations is that it started in the United States during the Great Depression.

That’s when parents wanted to teach their children to be grateful and generous, and encouraged them to leave milk and cookies out for Santa to show their appreciation for the gifts they received on Christmas.

This gesture also symbolised the spirit of giving and sharing that is associated with the festivities.

Another possible origin of this custom is related to the ancient Norse mythology.

According to the myths, children would leave food out for Odin’s eight-legged horse, Sleipner, who carried him across the sky during the Yule season.

This was a way of hoping that Odin would stop by and leave gifts in return.

This tradition was later adopted by other European countries, where children would leave treats for Santa’s reindeer or donkey, depending on the local folklore.

Today, leaving cookies and milk for Santa is a fun and festive way of celebrating Christmas and expressing gratitude to the jolly old man who brings joy to millions of children around the world.

Some people even leave different kinds of cookies and drinks for Santa, depending on their preferences or cultural backgrounds.

For example, some British and Australian children leave sherry and mince pies, while some French children leave wine and carrots.

Whatever your family tradition is, when it comes to leaving cookies out for Santa, some of the recipe ideas we offer here really will impress him (and his reindeer, obviously!).

Christmas cookie recipes for kids

pic of Christmas cookie stars - Christmas cookies - recipes and the historyChristmas is a super exciting time for kids and a quiet afternoon baking is the perfect way to bring some calm back into the household. Sugar cookies are simple to make, even for little ones and we love this recipe from family food blogger Stacey at ‘My Kids Lick The Bowl’.

You only need a few easy-to-shop ingredients for these tasty, star-shaped cookies, they don’t take long and aren’t overly sweet, so they suit being iced and topped with sprinkles or sweets.

If you’re pushed for time and need a quick and fun bake to take to the school fair or need a last minute gift, we recommend this brilliant recipe for Melting Snowman Biscuits from BBC Good Food Magazine.

Everyone from amateur cooks to over-enthusiastic toddlers will be able to make these comical biscuits. You’ll need six large cookies or digestive biscuits for the base, six large white marshmallows for the snowman’s head and wonky hat, 200g of fondant icing sugar for his melted body, pretzel sticks for his arms, coloured chocolate beans for his nose and buttons and a smidge of black writing icing for his face.

How do I decorate Christmas cookies?

pic of a Christmas cookie with a decoration stamped on it - Christmas cookies - recipes and the historySugar cookies and shortbread can be shaped using festive cutters. These are widely available in the run up to Christmas in lots of supermarkets and shops – and also retailers such as Amazon and Etsy which have hundreds of fun designs, from jolly snowmen and Christmas trees to friendly reindeers and snowflakes.

If you want to jazz up your Christmas biscuits further, all you need is a piping bag, some royal icing and a steady hand. Use your imagination and have fun adding tinsel and baubles to tree cookies or a colourful scarf on a gingerbread man.

For an extra special touch, invest in cookie stamps. The possibilities are endless, you could stamp each guest’s name onto a cookie and use them as place markers, inscribe a sweet message to your loved one or stamp a favourite character onto a batch of chocolate chip cookies as a tasty gift for the kids. We love the one pictured from Cookie Zone.

The best Christmas cookie recipes

pic of christmas cookies as a treat - Christmas cookies - recipes and the historyChristmas cookies make a delightful accompaniment to a coffee after a long day of present shopping and, when presented in a beautiful box and tied with festive ribbon, they make a gorgeous gift.

Cookies can be as elaborate or simple as you desire. This collection of Christmas cookie recipes from Good Housekeeping is packed with delicious flavours, decadent decorations and mouthwatering textures.

Our favourites are the Black Forest Cookies (Pictured) and the Iced Lemon Stars.

Looking for a Christmas cookie recipe from a celebrity chef? Try this one for decadent Linzer Cookies from Nigella Lawson’s 2020 book ‘Cook, Eat, Repeat’. Linzer cookies are from Austria. They look and taste like an elevated jammy dodger, and they are made with a dough that is enriched with hazelnuts – trust us, your family and friends will adore them.