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Home Life Day 11: Why Do We Drink These Holiday Cocktails Every Year?

Day 11: Why Do We Drink These Holiday Cocktails Every Year?

by Staff
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“I have never quite been satisfied with holiday drinks as I have known them,” wrote Amanda Hesser in the Times in 2000 — a familiar sentiment to anyone who’s encountered the usual suspects among seasonal cocktails. Every December, they return, like familiar characters in a well-worn novel: eggnog, wassail, mulled wine, glogg, Tom & Jerry. The only questions revolve around presentation and preference. Hot or cold? Nog or glogg?

The answer depends on the era.

A Times article from 1907 titled “Christmas Cheer and How to Make It,” explained that “it has ever been the custom among those who entertained largely to keep the punch bowl filled to the brim with some particularly tasty liquid refreshment from early in the afternoon until late at night.” As to the liquid refreshment itself, the writer broke down the most popular ones by region: Eggnog was a favorite in the South; rum toddies in New York; rum punch in New England — and a hot port wine punch recipe by the New York bartender William Schmidt (famed in his day) was thrown into the mix.

By 1939, the Times reported that “modern drinking bouts are restrained affairs in comparison with those of ancient Saxony,” with “the chief difference between holiday drinking in the days of Merrie England and those of 1939 America is that hot drinks have given way to iced ones.” The reason? “We have steam heat now,” wrote Betty Wason, so “no longer do we need a roaring log fire and a steaming beverage to warm up the bones.”

Yet the warm seasonal drink remained a comforting holiday staple, as Lawrence Van Gelder reported in 1977. “When the nights grow long and the year dwindles to a close,” he wrote, “climate and calendar combine to foster festivities that bring together large groups of people — family and friends — as eager to share the warm spirit of the holidays as they are to share the warm spirits.”

Egg nog, in particular, has proved stubbornly resilient, despite repeated efforts to leave it behind. In “Grown-ups Don’t Nog Eggs,” Ms. Hesser called eggnog a “soup course” — and instead suggested trying a French 77, a spin on the French 75 cocktail, using Champagne, brandy and Chambord. By 2007, though, our cocktail columnist had relented, championing two updated nog recipes by the bartender Eben Freeman: one featuring Roquefort cheese and pear and the other a cedar-infused bourbon.

In 2011, the Times magazine columnist Rosie Schaap took up the case for glogg, the mulled-wine drink, in an article titled “Glogg Before ’Nog.” But, perhaps knowing you can’t fight the inevitable, Ms. Schaap had come around to eggnog a year later.

“What kind of heartless character could resist its creamy, eggy, decadent charms?” she asked. It was a rhetorical question.

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