Can you smell that? Mmmmm… smells like the sweet aroma of baking cookies. It must be National Cookie Day! Woo hoo!

It’s no wonder that the unofficial holiday called “National Cookie Day” takes place each year on December 4. With Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa ahead, it’s about time to start making those holiday cookies.

Historians believe that cookies got their start hundreds of years ago when bakers would test the temperature of their ovens with a small amount of cake batter. These little cakes caught on quickly, and cookies were soon available in all sorts of flavors and shapes.

English and Dutch immigrants brought cookie recipes to America in the 1600s. The English word “cookie” actually comes from the Dutch word koekje, which means “small cake.”

Because of their simple recipe and low cost to make, gingerbread cookies were among the most popular cookies long ago. Today, holiday cookies come in a wide variety of flavors and shapes.

Many holiday cookies can be traced back to all sorts of different countries and traditions. For example, many modern Christmas cookies can be traced back to recipes from medieval Europe.

With so many different types of cookies to choose from, how can you decide which cookies to make? Many years ago, some clever ladies decided that there was an easy way to obtain a wide variety of homemade holiday cookies: the cookie exchange!

Today, cookie exchanges are extremely popular during the holidays. Many families participate by making large quantities of one type of cookie.

They then gather together for an informal party where they exchange cookies with others. In this way, they’re able to enjoy many different types of homemade cookies throughout the holidays.

Plus, you’ll have plenty of cookies to choose from when it comes time to leave cookies and milk under the tree for Santa. If you’re wondering how that tradition got started, no one really knows for sure.

Some believe the tradition comes from the fact that the modern Christmas tree tradition came from the medieval German “paradise tree” custom. Paradise trees were decorated with apples and cookies.

When Christmas trees developed, cookies were still part of the decorations. Sugar cookies cut into shapes, such as candy canes, reindeer and holly leaves, are still used as Christmas tree decorations in many homes.

Leaving cookies — and milk, of course! — for Santa probably resulted from children noticing that Santa must have snacked on decorations from time to time. Today, children often leave carrots for Santa’s reindeer, too.

Others believe that the tradition of leaving cookies for Santa might have developed in the 1930s, when naughty kids thought of using the sweet treats to bribe Santa at the last minute into leaving them a nice present. Of course, nice kids might also have thought to leave cookies as a way to thank Santa for all his hard work on Christmas Eve!


78 Join the Discussion

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  1. I think the elves’ snicker doodles and the meringue snowflakes sound best! My mom makes saltines covered in caramel with chocolate on top!!! Yummy! I never knew how they were discovered, though! Happy Holidays!

    • Happy Holidays to you, too, Cate! Those cookies your mom makes sound super delicious! We bet they are fun to make and that they don’t last very long because everyone eats them up! Thanks so much for sharing your comment with us today! :-)

    • We just LOVE it when our Wonder Friends try to guess what the next day’s Wonder will be about, Cate…THANK YOU! We’ll all have to check back tomorrow to see if your guess was correct! :-)

  2. The history is pretty interesting…but…I just want the cookies! :) Here is a random question…When and how do you think the world will end? I’m not exactly sure, myself…

    • Hello, Raina! Thanks for letting us know you stopped by today’s Wonder and that you thought learning about the history of HOLIDAY COOKIES was interesting! We thought it was neat to learn about, too! There are lots of theories out there about when and how the world will end. We like to focus on having lots of fun with family and friends and learning awesome new things TODAY, and let the future take care of itself! :-)

    • We’re super happy to hear that, Andrea! It sounds like the Busy Bees are going to have a very yummy week of learning! Tell your students that their friends in Wonderopolis think they ROCK! :-)

  3. Hey, Ive been on here MANY times now. I did not know that December 4th was National Cookie Day! What a cool fact! Me and my mom were going to make cookies today, but instead we are going to see the Twilight Saga Breaking Dawn Part 1. I’m so excited, but that was very awesome fact!
    Bye, see you tomorrow!
    mak- makayla

    • We know you visit Wonderopolis often, Mak, and we REALLY appreciate it! We like reading your comments (like the one you left for us on today’s Wonder)! We hope you have fun at the movies with your mom! Thanks for being a great Wonder Friend! :-)

    • That’s an AWESOME question, Mak! We ask for an email address because it’s one way for us to be able to contact our Wonder Friends if the need ever arises. We sometimes give away participation prizes to Wonder Friends who comment or answer questions during special days in Wonderopolis (like during our Camp What-a-Wonder adventures in the summer), so we need an email address for important stuff like that! :-)

    • Cookies are really AWESOME, we agree, Ninja Girl! Thanks for commenting on this yummy Wonder of the Day®! We’ll all have to check back to see if the next Wonder is about Santa Claus…something tells us you might be close with your guess! :-)

  4. My favorite holiday cookie is a sugar cookie with white icing, but the white icing has food coloring in it with sprinkles on it.

    • Your favorite holiday cookie sounds so super yummy, Riley! We like to decorate cookies with icing and sprinkles here in Wonderopolis, too!

    • Both of those types of cookies sound AWESOME, Jeron! We think it’s super fun that you like to drink different kinds of milk with your cookies! :-)

    • Sugar cookies seem to be a favorite today, Cam! Thank you for sharing your favorite holiday cookie with us! :-) Sugar cookies are so much fun to make, bake, decorate and share with family and friends during the season! Great choice! :-)

  5. I think the best cookies are banana cookies, and Santa is good to us, but some kids say Santa is not forever. My mom and my dad make cookies.

    • Banana cookies sound really delicious, Ainoha! Thank you for commenting on this Wonder about holiday treats! We think it’s awesome that you say Santa is good to you. Some Wonder Friends believe in Santa Claus, and some don’t. We think it’s GREAT that you do! :-)

    • We hope so, Mak! We love getting comments from our Wonder Friends each day when they visit the Wonder of the Day®! Thank you for letting us know you liked the video from this Wonder! :-)

  6. I LOVED the video for this one! So cute. I also learned a lot from the blog. I really liked it. What’s your favorite cookie?

    • Thank you for letting us know you liked this Wonder of the Day®, Cameron! There are so many yummy kinds of cookies to choose from…oatmeal, sugar, chocolate chip, spritz, gingerbread…how could we possibly choose ONE favorite? :-)

    • Snicker doodles are really yummy, sinyor PICONTAY! Thank you so much for sharing your favorite holiday cookie with everyone in Wonderopolis today! :-)

  7. I love all cookies!!! But if I had to pick just one, I’d pick sugar cookies! Especially my grandma’s home made cookies…they’re the best!!! :D

    • Sugar cookies are super yummy, aren’t they, Emmy? We think your grandma would be super proud to hear you say you think her cookies are the best! :-)

  8. My favorite kind of cookies are cookie cake, gingerbread cookies and the peanut butter cookie with the Hershey kiss. I have lots of baking cookies. Me and my mom and sister bake them, and me and my sister pass them out to our neighbors and the garbage or mail man.

    • That’s a really nice tradition you, your sister and your mom have making and sharing cookies, Noah! We bet your neighbors (and the garbage man and mailman) really appreciate them! Thanks so much for sharing your personal connection to this Wonder! :-)

  9. My favorite is the peanut butter with a peanut butter cup instead of a kiss. I think these are my favorite. I have great memories of making cookies with my grandma. We always made sugar cookies and other ones that I don’t remember, as well. One that is popular in the small town that I grew up in is a German cookie called Pfeffernusse, or peppernuts. They are an anise-flavored cookie. My daughter is trying to figure out what new traditions to start. She likes an orange juice cookie that a friend makes.

    • Thank you SO MUCH for sharing your memories of baking cookies with your grandma, Dawn! Those sound like very special times that you will always treasure! The Pfeffernusse cookies sound really interesting…we will have to try those very soon! We think any holiday tradition that involves spending time with family and friends is THE BEST tradition! :-)

  10. Dear Wonderopolis,
    I WONDER if Santa likes fruitcake. Eww, fruitcake is horrible tasting.
    My favorite cookie is turtle fudge. It has everything in a turtle cake, besides the cake! It also has humongous chocolate chips and the cookie itself is made of chocolate!
    Just writing about it makes me hungry. Can I eat one of your wonders about food?
    From the most awesomest, most radical girl ever, SARAH

    • We’re not sure if Santa likes fruitcake, Sarah, but we think those turtle fudge cookies you described sound AWESOME and RADICAL! Thanks so much for sharing about them and for asking if you can snack on one of the Wonders of the Day® about food! You can feed your hungry brain with knowledge any time you want just by visiting Wonderopolis! :-)

  11. I’m done! Okay, back to the questions!
    Why do we celebrate Valentine’s Day?
    Is there a punctuation dictionary?
    Who invented candy?
    What was the first word invented?
    Who invented caramel and caramel apples?

    • Hi again, Payton! Those are some AMAZING questions! Make sure you visit Wonderopolis this February 14th…we think you might like the Wonder of the Day® a LOT on that day! Also, check out these SWEET Wonders for a little history on some much-loved candies:

      We’ll have to do some more WONDERing about your other questions! They are all AWESOME ideas for future Wonders. THANK YOU for suggesting them! :-)

    • Chocolate chip cookies are DEFINITELY a favorite of many Wonder Friends, Billy! We think we might head over to the Wonderopolis bakery after lunch today to sample a few ourselves! :-)

    • We like TOO many types of cookies to count, Billy! There aren’t a lot of cookies we’d turn away, so I guess we’d say ALL cookies are our favorite! :-)

    • Peppermint cookies sound extra yummy, Payton! We bet your mom is a great baker! We love soooooooo many different types of cookies that it’s hard to decide on just ONE favorite! :-)

  12. I love cookies, especially the ones me and my family make. I like sugar, choc. chip, and M&M cookies, but my most favorite types of cookies are mint cookies. The are sooooooooooo good.

    • We’re going to have to try mint cookies now, Emma! You are the second Wonder Friend who has mentioned them as being a favorite, and we think they sound AWESOME! We like how you mentioned enjoying the cookies you and your family make together. Baking together sure makes for some super sweet memories! :-)

  13. Hi, I am Harshitha from Mrs. Caplin’s class. I learned some new words like batter, unofficial, aroma, immigrant, medieval. I learned that English and Dutch immigrants brought cookie recipes to America in the 1600s. I also learned about many years ago, some clever ladies decided that they will exchange cookies. And also there is a holiday called “National Cookie Day” and each year it takes place on December 4. Is Santa Claus is real? Does he really drink the milk and eat the cookies? My favorite cookie is chocolate cookies! What is your favorite cookie? Thanks for your information!

    • Hello, Harshitha! We’re happy you left us a comment today to share all the interesting new words and facts you learned about cookies! Chocolate cookies are yummy! We can see why they’re your favorite. We like many different kinds of cookies, so it’s difficult to pick just one favorite. We’d really like a platter filled with an assortment of holiday cookies…then we could share and taste many different kinds! :-)

  14. I love cookies, they are one of my favorite desserts ever. I love them with milk, depending on the cookie.

    P.S. Why do you need a website name and email?

    • Hi, Keyvette! Thank you for sharing how much you love cookies! We really like them a whole bunch, too!

      We ask for an email address as a way for us to know who our Wonder Friends are, and to get in touch with them if we ever wanted to communicate in a different way than a reply to a comment they have left for us. Also, we give away participation prizes sometimes (like during our Camp What-a-Wonder adventures in the summer), so an email address is a way we can contact our Wonder Friends for fun things like that! You don’t have to include a website address if you don’t have one, but we’d like your email address for the reasons we explained about above! :-)

  15. I really like to make Christmas cookies, but I do not like how many of the cookies go bad before we even get to eat them. My favorite is chocolate chip, mint chip, snicker doodle, peanut butter and oatmeal raisin.

    • You are making us hungry for cookies by sharing all of your favorite kinds with us, Zoey! Thank you! We think we might try making peanut butter cookies today. You have inspired us to get into the kitchen and bake up some WONDER! :-)

    • That would be AWESOME, Zoey! We’ll have to try that the next time we make cookies. Better yet, why don’t YOU decorate a Wonderopolis cookie and send us a photo of it by email to We’d LOVE to see the creative way you would decorate a Wonderopolis cookie! :-)

  16. Chocolate Chip!! Chocolate Chip!! Chocolate Chip! Every time I get a Subway sandwich I get…. Chocolate Chip!! I guess you can call me the Chocolate Chip Cookie Monster!!

    • Yum, what a delicious choice, Jeff! We love chocolate in nearly every type of dessert– thanks for sharing your love for such a sweet treat! :)

    • YUM, Joy, those sounds DELICIOUS! We did a little research, and you are oh-so-correct, today is National Milk Day! We hope you have some milk and cookies today! :-)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • What’s your favorite holiday cookie?
  • Why do families exchange cookies during the holidays?
  • How did the tradition of leaving cookies and milk for Santa get started?

Wonder Gallery

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Try It Out

Ready to bake? With the holidays fast approaching, a little practice may be in order.

Plus, it’s National Cookie Day. You wouldn’t want this unofficial holiday to pass by without celebrating, would you?

Check out some of the recipes below, decide what types of cookies you want to make and then head to the store to get some supplies. Enlist the help of a friend or family member. Baking cookies is always more fun with other people!

Here are some recipes for some traditional holiday cookies from various holiday traditions! Which ones look delicious to you?

In the spirit of the holidays, we’d like to host a holiday cookie recipe exchange with our Wonder Friends. Post your favorite recipe on Facebook for all your Wonder Friends to see.

Check back often to see what recipes others have shared. You never know when you might find a new favorite!


Still Wondering

Explore ReadWriteThink’s Integrating Language Arts: If You Give a Mouse a Cookie lesson to learn how to integrate reading, writing, listening and speaking to boost comprehension skills.


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