The Christmas season seems to start earlier every year, with some people getting into the holiday spirit even before Halloween. There are certain traditions that seem to find their way into everyday life during this season. Whether your traditions include decorating, eating, or stressing for finals, you can always rely on the consistency of Christmastime.

Though you may not look forward to studying during the holiday season, you can certainly look forward to eating. There are certain foods that undoubtedly find their way into our local supermarkets around Christmastime. For better or for worse, these iconic Christmas treats have been around for centuries.

Sometimes, you just have to wonder what it is about these treats that make them so popular during the Christmas season. Where did they come from? What makes them so special? As you can imagine, there are many theories about how Christmas food traditions began, so let's break down four of them right now.

1. Candy Canes

candy, sweet, peppermint, chocolate, bonbon
Jocelyn Hsu

Let's start with their shape. There are two main theories surrounding how candy canes got their unique shape.

The first is that candy canes were made to resemble the letter J, for Jesus. The second is that they were shaped to model a shepherd's crook.

As legend tells, the candy took its shape in Cologne, Germany at a Catholic cathedral in 1670. A choirmaster at the cathedral decided to bend candy sticks into crooks and hand them to young kids as a way of keeping them quiet during the Christmas services.  

As far as the traditional red and white colors, many believe these colors are also meant to represent Jesus. Most say that the white color embodies the purity of Christ, while the red color embodies the blood of Christ.

The peppermint flavor of the candy cane is said to represent the purity of Jesus as well. In Old Testament times, a flavor called hyssop was used. Hyssop, which closely resembles the flavor of peppermint, was a symbol of purity and sacrifice. It is believed that the flavor hyssop was the inspiration for the modern traditional candy cane flavor.

While today you can find candy canes in a variety of flavors, the traditional peppermint is still the most common. You can enjoy them plain, hang them on your Christmas tree, or even transform them into a totally different tasty treat like this peppermint crunch puppy chow.

cream, sweet, chocolate, milk, candy, marshmallow, hot chocolate
Meredith Ross

2. Gingerbread

Whether it’s shaped like a man or a house, gingerbread is one food that you’re actually meant to play with. Though I would never turn down the opportunity to build a gingerbread house during Christmastime, you would definitely not find me building one on St. Patrick's Day. That would be way too bizarre. As fun as it may be, this food tradition belongs to Christmas.

The tradition of gingerbread dates back to as early as the 16th century. In fact, it was Queen Elizabeth I who is credited with bringing gingerbread men to life. To entertain her dignified guests, she would offer them gingerbread shaped to resemble their likeness.  

Around this same time, gingerbread houses took their shape in Germany. These creations were made popular by The Brothers Grimm, who wrote the story of Hansel and Gretel. The fairy tale featured a large house made of gingerbread that was home to a wicked witch.

Today, the Christmas season offers gingerbread creations in traditional and extreme fashions. The reigning world record for largest gingerbread house measures at an internal volume of 39,201.8 ft³. Whether you're going for a new world record or just looking for a fun holiday activity, try building your own gingerbread house using these tips.

cake, chocolate, candy, sweet, goody, cookie, pastry
Ethan Cappello

3. Eggnog

coffee, milk, cappuccino, cream, espresso, chocolate, sweet
Kristine Mahan

Love it or hate it, this festive drink seems to hit store shelves faster than you can say mistletoe. For the majority of the year, this drink is practically unheard of. But as soon as the holiday season rolls around, you simply can't escape it.

Traditionally, the main ingredients in eggnog are eggs, dairy, sugar, and alcohol. When you think about it, that's a bit of an odd combination for a drink. So how did it become such an iconic holiday staple?

The story of eggnog begins with British Aristocracy. This now common Christmas creation was once considered a drink for only the wealthy. In those days, milk and eggs were too expensive for the common citizen to enjoy. Eggnog is said to be derived from a British drink called posset, which contained hot milk, spices, and either ale or wine. It wasn't until around the 18th century that eggnog made its American debut.

Today, eggnog is enjoyed in many different forms. Some prefer to drink it cold, others prefer it hot, and some avoid it all together. It's enjoyed by kids and adults alike, although they tend to drink it for different reasons. Either way, this festive holiday drink comes back every year without fail.

Luckily, there are other ways you can enjoy eggnog if you're not a fan of sipping it straight. Give these eggnog creations a try this holiday season.

4. Fruitcake

Perhaps the most controversial of all the Christmas food traditions is the fruitcake. You may have never tried this infamous treat, but you've definitely heard of it. Fruitcake has a reputation of being, well, bad. So how did it become such an iconic Christmas tradition?

Despite all the horror stories of receiving fruitcakes as gifts, the holiday treat has stood the test of time in more ways than one. First of all, mention of fruitcake dates back to ancient Roman times. Back then, they would use ingredients like pomegranate seeds, raisins, and pine nuts. 

Ingredients were adapted over time, and in the Middle Ages, bakers would use preserved fruits, honey, and spices. In the 15th century, the tradition appeared in Britain and eventually spread throughout Europe. Finally, fruitcakes began to emerge in America around the 19th century.

Throughout history, fruitcake grew in popularity all over the world. The use of preserved or dried fruits really caught on as a simple way to make a festive treat. One of the most important aspects of a traditional fruitcake is its age. Commonly, people have been known to preserve a fruitcake for up to a year before serving it. A traditional fruitcake is first soaked in alcohol for preservation and then set aside to age over time.    

Contrary to popular belief, there are people who actually look forward to a homemade fruitcake during the holidays. There's no time like the present to give this Christmas food icon a shot. Try making a traditional fruitcake like this one.

No matter how many years pass, you can always count on Christmas food traditions to be around during the holidays. They are only acceptable a few months out of the year, making them even more special. Generations of the past, present and future will all be able to look to these iconic treats for some old-fashioned holiday cheer each Christmas.