Traditions and Christmas go together like cookies and milk. In fact, when it comes to Christmas, cookies and milk are tradition — at least at holiday time here in the States.
The ritual of leaving out a plate of cookies and a glass of milk for Santa — and sometimes carrots for Santa’s reindeer — has become routine in the U.S. How did this get started? One theory contends that the concept is adapted from the original use for Christmas stockings, which were traditionally filled with treats for Santa. Families still hang stockings, but now they are filled with goodies for the family, and Santa gets a separate plate of milk and cookies. Another version of the story has it that during the Depression, parents used Christmas as a time to teach their kids to share what they had, no matter how little, with others; leaving snacks out for Santa and his reindeer was part of that lesson.
Still another story links Santa’s snacks to Norse mythology. People would leave treats out for Odin’s eight-legged horse, Sleipnir, in the hopes the god would take the gift as an offering and visit their homes during his Yule hunting adventures. The ritual was passed down later to Dutch children, who would leave treats out for Sinterklaas and his horse. That tradition is still honored in the Netherlands today. Every Christmas Eve, children spoil Father Christmas’s horse (not reindeer) with water, hay, and carrots. In exchange, they get marzipan, chocolate coins, and hot cocoa. The French fancy spoiling the animals, too, leaving Père Noël to fend for himself.
Not all cultures set aside food for Santa on Christmas Eve. The Germans, for example, think Santa should take time out of his busy schedule and do some light reading. If he gets hungry in most other countries, though, he’ll have plenty to choose from. Here is what his midnight buffet will look like around the world.
In Argentina, children leave out presents in anticipation of the arrival of the Magi on January 5, the night before Three Kings Day. The kids leave a gift of hay and water to nourish and hydrate the Magi’s horses, as the horses needed the energy to carry the kings on their journey to see baby Jesus in Bethlehem.
It's mighty hot Down Under, so it's only natural that Santa would want a beer. That's right! In Australia, it's custom to leave a beer out for Santa. Kids also leave out some cookies for Santa, and they may leave him a glass of milk. They'll also make sure to leave some carrots for the reindeer.