In Europe during the Middle Ages, people began baking cookies (then called biscuits) to celebrate Christmas in their towns and villages. Since the ingredients were expensive, wealthy people were the ones most likely to enjoy Christmas cookies at that time in history. People sometimes made Christmas cookies to serve at Christmas celebrations like parties; sometimes street vendors would sell cookies as special treats during the Christmas season.
People in the Middle Ages made simple cookie dough using basic ingredients such as flour, eggs, and butter, and sometimes added natural sweeteners such as honey, fruit, and sugar. If they could afford the additional cost of buying spices, they might add some spices such as ginger, cinnamon, or pepper to their cookie dough.
Using wooden molds that they’d carved, people cut the cookies into shapes that symbolized the Christmas story in some way: angels (who announced that Jesus Christ had come to Earth), hearts (representing God’s love), and people (such as famous saints). They also made cookies in other festive shapes (such as animals or fruits) to eat during Christmas celebrations.
Angel Christmas cookies became especially popular in Italy, where nuns who lived in convents there often decorated their Christmas cookies with elaborate images of angels from frosting.
By the 17th century, many people made Christmas cookies in their home kitchens, since doing so had become more practical and affordable. Gingerbread and sugar cookies were especially popular during the Christmas season, and people often baked them in the shape of angels.
The word “cookie” first appeared in the English language during the 18th century. It comes from the Dutch word “koekje” (which means “small cake”).
The Industrial Revolution brought the invention of machines that could mass-produce cookies, so angel-shaped Christmas cookies began to be produced commercially and sold in stores. Also, people could buy metal cookie cutters in stores to use at home, so people began to use angel-shaped cookie cutters to help them make homemade Christmas cookies in the shape of angels.
Today, cookies in the shape of angels are among the most popular types of Christmas cookies enjoyed around the world.