Where does the tradition of giving and sharing chocolate at Christmas come from?
A cherished moment of the year for gourmets, the Christmas season heralds the inevitable tradition of chocolate every year. From the foot of the Christmas tree to the table, in the form of a pastry log or hidden in an Advent calendar, chocolate comes in a thousand delights that warm the heart and charm the taste buds of young and old alike. If this custom is nowadays anchored in our customs, it is the fruit of a long road travelled through the centuries, and its history is marked by memories of a distant era.
Chocolate, a symbol of nobility
Discovered in Antiquity by pre-Colombian peoples (Aztecs, Toltecs, Mayas...) in Mesoamerica, the cocoa bean occupies a central place in these civilizations. Its nutritional qualities and health benefits make it a very precious commodity to which these peoples devoted a true cult and which was even used as currency.
Since the colonization of America, the Aztec chocolate recipe has been travelling to conquer the countries of Europe, which are gradually falling in love with this tasty and nutritious delicacy. Around the 16th and 17th centuries, chocolate was a rare and precious product that was reserved for the elite.
Although it is now democratized and accessible to all, it has not lost its titles of nobility. Since then, studied, declined and shaped by chocolate craftsmen in the manner of a precious metal, chocolate is more than ever a symbol of luxury and sophistication that is part of the exceptional pleasures that we like to indulge in at Christmas.
The tradition of the Advent calendar
The history of the Advent calendar has its roots in the 5th century, when the clergy ordered three days of fasting per week in the period before the coming of Jesus Christ. The Latin "adventus" meaning "coming" gave this period of the year the name Advent.
Throughout history, Advent has become synonymous in the collective unconscious with the imminent arrival of Christmas. To keep the children waiting during these 24 days, Protestant families gave them a triptych every morning to open like a small window to discover a religious image.
These little windows have evolved and today hide delicious chocolates in our Advent calendars, which some people find difficult to make last until Christmas!
The story of the Christmas log
In the Middle Ages, the winter solstice heralded the arrival of the harshest season of the year. To prepare for it, fireplaces would burn a single log of wood in the hearth for as long as possible to last their reserves until the return of good weather. According to Catholic beliefs at the time, a log that burned in less than three days was a bad omen.
Little by little, heating devices were modernized and this habit became less and less necessary within families. However, as "the log" was already rooted in the culture, the log traded its place in the fireplace for a decorative place, and its essential function for a more symbolic meaning.
When chocolate arrived in Europe around the 16th century, it became very popular for its gustatory qualities and some time later it was shaped to imitate the bark of the wood in an emblematic dessert: the birth of the Christmas log. Today, although it has many different aspects with iced and fruity recipes, the traditional chocolate log does not intend to give up its place on the throne of festive desserts.
Saint Nicholas' Day
If the tradition has been eroded over time, the night of December 5 to 6 is still marked by St. Nicholas' Day, especially in several Eastern European countries and northern France.
During this night or the day following it, Saint Nicholas, the figure of an old bearded and benevolent man otherwise known as Nicholas of Myre, comes to reward wise children with good chocolates and other sweets. At his side, the sinister Père Fouettard is in charge of punishing unruly children, but this part of the tradition is very often overshadowed to keep only the pleasure of receiving sweets.
For unforgettable celebrations, discover our selection of chocolates to offer or to taste.