Why We Kiss Under Mistletoe And Toast With Eggnog


Why do we kiss under mistletoe and toast with eggnog? Who decided we should eat jelly doughnuts for Hanukkah? And where do poinsettias come from? (NPR)

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Discussion Ideas

We love this photo of Israeli soldiers enjoying sufganiyot.
Photograph by Israel Defense Forces, courtesy Wikimedia. Public domain



These creamy nogs bear little resemblance to Colonial egg’n’grog.
Photograph by jill111, courtesy Pixabay. Public domain
  • Eggnog is a sweet, creamy—and, yes, sometimes boozy—holiday treat. What is the geography of eggnog?
    • Eggnog is a mixture of heavily spiced liquors, raw eggs, milk, and cream. Eggnog has its roots in 13th-century England, although the dairy is a 17th-century American addition.


  • I understand the egg. What’s the nog all about?
    • One theory is that nog derives from the word noggin, which was a Middle English word for a type of mug for serving alcohol. The Online Etymology Dictionary says nog means “strong ale.” A third theory claims that the name is derived from a Colonial term for rum: egg-and-grog. Shortened to egg’n’grog, it then eventually became eggnog.


  • So, why eggnog during the winter holidays?


Chinese food on Christmas is “American-Jewish as apple pie.” This Chinese feast is actually … Chinese. It’s a restaurant in Taiwan.
Photograph by Frank and Helen Schreider, National Geographic
  • Chinese food on Christmas is “American-Jewish as apple pie.” What is the geography this eat-in or takeout treat?
    • The origin of the tradition goes back to the turn of the 20th century in the United States, when Jewish and Chinese immigrants were among the largest non-Christian populations in the country.



Public domain



Seemingly straight out of a Diego Rivera painting, a merchant sells an indigenous plant—a poinsettia—to a buyer in Toluca, Mexico, in 1961.
Photograph by Merle Severy, National Geographic
  • Poinsettias are one of the most familiar flowers in Christmas-themed displays. What’s the geography of Euphorbia pulcherrima?
    • Poinsettias are small shrubs indigenous to the tropical and dry forests of southern Mexico. The flowers are named after the first U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Joel Roberts Poinsett, who introduced the plant to the U.S. in 1825.


  • So, why poinsettias at Christmas?
    • The pretty, bright red bracts (they’re not leaves!) on poinsettias have been associated with Christmas stories in Mexico since the 16th century, when Christianity was introduced to the country. In fact, poinsettias are often called flor de Noche Buena (Christmas Eve flower) in Mexico and other Latin American countries.
      • The most familiar legend associated with the Christmas poinsettia is about a young girl, Pepita, who is too poor to offer grand gifts for her church’s Christmas display. The twigs she gathered from the roadside blossomed into poinsettias when placed on the church altar.
    • What other flowers are associated with Christmas?



NPR: Why We Kiss Under Mistletoe And Toast With Eggnog

Nat Geo: Cultural Richness

Nat Geo: Beignets: From scriblita to the Big Easy

Nat Geo: Geography in the News: Hanukkah, a Jewish Celebration

Nat Geo: Hanukkah Quick Quiz

Nat Geo: Nutty for Nutmeg

Nat Geo: Culture and Food and Ritual, Oh My

Nat Geo: Christmas Orchids

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