Those cute Christmas gingerbread man cookies have such a dark backstory…
That’s one explanation our research yielded for why this particular treat became associated with this particular holiday. (Though speculation abounds!)
You’re probably familiar with The Gingerbread Man folktale — a fable usually told as a warning to children not to stray too far from home, lest they be eaten (or otherwise harmed).
The Gingerbread Man is one of the most well-known and popular stories in American folklore, and while the ending doesn’t exactly inspire the warm fuzzies, you do have to admire the guy’s chutzpah, regardless.
[Plot twist: And at least one author has rewritten the tale to have a happy ending — which might be nice if you’re reading it during a cuddly story time with your kids by the crackling Yule log.]
Run, run as fast as you can!
You can’t catch me. I’m the Gingerbread Man!
The story in its earliest written form dates back to 1875, though it almost certainly existed in oral lore back to some point earlier in the 19th century.
Making gingerbread cookies (and other gingerbread desserts) for Christmas itself is a medieval tradition, and we assume it just so happened that people shapes were among the varieties of cookies cut out by the bakers of the day — and this may have been long before our beloved tale of woe was first ever told.
Gingerbread man cookies give festive touch (1970)
From The Greenville News (Greenville, South Carolina) November 20, 1970
Christmas comes but once a year — a time to make special friends. Help trim the tree with crisp, perky gingerbread man cookies wrapped in transparent plastic film.
Gingerbread cookies are part of the holiday scene. Watch eyes sparkle when parents, relatives, friends, and neighbors find the gaily frosted cookies, attached to their gifts.
The cookies, backed with cardboard and wrapped, will also make attractive Christmas cards and mantel and table ornaments. Best of all, these cookies are area favorites to serve at “open house” when friends come to call.
People under 30 sometimes don’t know that the thing that makes gingerbread so luscious and old-fashioned in flavor and texture is old-fashioned molasses.
With a jar of this natural sweetener in hand, you can make marvelous gingerbread boy cookies in the true tradition of Christmas. You can also make and frost delightful decorative shapes such as bells, stars, trees, and even gingerbread houses. (You might like this article: How to make a gingerbread house)
A charming idea for a “gift tag” for a present is to take a round cookie with the person’s first name “written” on it in frosting, wrap the cookie in plastic film, and tie it right in with the ribbon when wrapping the package. Such touches of originality are the very spirit of Christmas, and so easy to do!
Count on having superb gingerbread cookies when you make them with old-fashioned molasses, for it is not a byproduct of sugar-making, but is made solely for its own sweet self.
It is pure, sweeter than other molasses, and completely free of preservatives or chemicals. The flavor is rich and mellow, and molasses helps cookies to keep fresh.
Old-style gingerbread man cookies (1970)
From The Greenville News (Greenville, South Carolina) November 20th, 1970
ALSO TRY: 8 great classic gingersnap recipes
Gingerbread men cookies made with spice cake mix (1990)
C&H sugar gingerbread man recipe: “The Perfect Man” (1990s)
No trouble at all. And sweet as can be. Shape any way you want. No problem. Never talks back. Smiles constantly. He’ll even help decorate the tree.
Be sure to use only C&H pure cane brown sugar. Why? There’s a difference.
Its brown color comes from molasses that’s a part of sugar cane. Some brown sugars are made by spraying coloring and molasses onto granulated sugar. If you rub some in your hands, the coloring will come off.
With C&H pure cane brown sugar, you see and smell the difference.
Domino Sugar’s gingerbread man cookies (1990)
Some men are made of all the right stuff.