Simone Mansell / Daily Nexus

Hundreds of years ago, our distant ancestors celebrated the winter solstice by holding lavish feasts before the colder temperatures set in and limited the crop and game yields. During the Middle Ages, the growing prominence of Christianity replaced these solstice celebrations with Christmas throughout Europe. Deciding not to compromise a good excuse for a celebratory meal, the traditions of gathering around to enjoy food during these holidays were maintained. 

Around the same time, thanks to the Silk Roads, novel spices were being spread around the world. Black pepper, cinnamon and nutmeg were not the only novelties to make it to the kitchens cooking up these holiday feasts: dried fruits such as dates and apricots also became newly acquired ingredients that could be incorporated into desserts. While these foreign additions were expectedly costly for the average family, even butter and sugar were commodities that families could only afford on special occasions, such as the holidays. Having obtained these rare ingredients, households baked special treats to please loved ones and celebrate. Cookies held the advantage of being easily shareable and giftable. And so, cookie making around the holidays became a common tradition in households all over the world.

Here are 10 traditional holiday cookie recipes from countries around the globe:

Anise pizzelle

The Italian anise pizzelle cookie originally comes from the Abruzzo region and is said to be the oldest known cookie (said to have originated during the 8th century)! These cookies are made using a pizzelle iron (similar to a waffle iron) which give the cookie its beautiful snowflake-like appearance.

Springerle shortbread

Another impressively old cookie recipe is the German springerle shortbread. Created during the 14th century, these cookies originally touted images from the Bible to educate the illiterate about religion. This effect was first achieved by using springerle molds, which have since been replaced by the springerle rolling pin, allowing bakers to work quicker, although at the expense of requiring greater arm strength. The images on the cookies have also evolved to represent not only biblical scenes but scenes of celebration of births, weddings and holidays.


It wouldn’t be a true Brazilian party if brigadeiros weren’t present! These round, chocolate sweets were born when women in Brazil had just gotten the right to vote in 1932, and some wanted to create treats to bring to meetings in support of their favorite candidate, Brigadier Eduardo Gomes. Even though he didn’t end up winning the election, his campaign gave Brazil one of its most famous sweets that continues to bring smiles throughout holidays and celebrations today.

Green pea cookies

Chinese New Year is a festivity that can boast a variety of celebratory cookies, but one unique and simple recipe is green pea cookies. The shape of these cookies symbolizes ancient Chinese coins and convey wishes of wealth and prosperity. The green pea flour used in this recipe not only gives these cookies their vibrant color but also allows individuals with nut allergies to enjoy them.

Nan-e nokhodchi

The Persian New Year, Nowruz, is celebrated with a multitude of delicious sweets, one of which is the nan-e nokhodchi. The main ingredient of these cookies is chickpea flour, making them enjoyable for gluten-free individuals as well. Combined with pistachios and cardamom, these aromatic cookies are traditionally shaped into clovers.


In Africa, Christmas isn’t associated with snowflakes and pine trees but rather the beach and late-night parades. And to celebrate, soetkoekies are enjoyed as a sweet treat. A well-known recipe from South Africa, soetkoekies are very simple sugar cookies, easily achievable by even a novice baker but unmatched in their buttery, crispy glory.


A holiday cookie list wouldn’t be complete without gingerbread, but did you know that an equivalent has existed in Sweden since the 1300s? Pepparkakor is the thinner version of its gingerbread cousin, and the two share many characteristics. This specific cookie is flavored with a variety of spices and sirap (a molasses-like syrup with a caramel taste). A pepparkakshus is a cookie house made from pepparkakor cookies and decorated with icing and candies. 


Kołaczki are traditional cookies hailing from Eastern Europe, although the exact country of origin is debated. Some claim these cookies were first made in Czechia, while others maintain that these are Polish treats. But regardless of their nationality, these cookies are sure to bring joy to any holiday meal. These cookies can be filled with jams of any variety (strawberry, blueberry, apricot, orange or pineapple), dried fruits, poppy seeds or sweet cheeses. They are often presented in a recognizable envelope-like shape and dusted with powdered sugar.


South America, especially Argentina, celebrates with alfajores, or caramel sandwich cookies. Said to have originated during the 8th century, today these cookies are a popular treat throughout South America and internationally for tourists, signifying this cookie’s cultural significance. Various regions of Argentina can be distinguished by the recipes of their alfajores. Some are made from sweet corn flour while others are filled with regional wine, but the appreciation of this cookie is consistent all around.

Stained glass cookies

Last but not least, British stained glass cookies will certainly usher the holiday spirit into any home. Colorful and customizable into any shape and color, making and hanging these cookies is a fun activity that can be enjoyed with family and friends. These cookies are made to impress and can be used as fun, edible Christmas tree decorations.

If you’re looking to expand your baking repertoire beyond typical sugar and gingerbread cookies this holiday season, give one of these international recipes a try and get a taste of celebration from another culture within the comfort of your home.