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The History of Christmas Traditions: Eggnog

Kristine has a B.A. in Journalism from Penn State University and an M.A. in Liberal Studies from the University of Michigan.

Eggnog--with just a sprinkle of nutmeg--is a time-honored holiday tradition.

Eggnog--with just a sprinkle of nutmeg--is a time-honored holiday tradition.

The History of Eggnog

Eggnog is a beverage that stirs up strong memories or strong opinions. Either you love it or you hate it. Its association with the Christmas season, however, dates back centuries.

According to the Thespruceeats.com article “The Origins of Eggnog: A Favorite Christmas Cocktail,” eggnog likely originated in Europe. Medieval monks in Britain during the 13th century drank a concoction called "posset," a warm ale punch that included eggs and figs. Over time, posset was likely combined with various milk and wine punches served at European social gatherings.

Old English Nog

The origins of the name “eggnog” are largely unknown. According to Thespruceeats.com, the name may come from the term "nog," which is an Old English word for strong beer. It could also derive from "noggin," which was a 16th-century small cup.

Another possibility credits American colonists who used the word "grogs" to describe thick drinks. This may have led to naming the holiday punch "egg-and-grog,” which was later combined into "eggnog."

Add some cinnamon to your eggnog, it's delicious!

Add some cinnamon to your eggnog, it's delicious!

Written History of Eggnog

The first written mention of the word "eggnog" occurred in the 1700s. A 1774 poem written by Maryland minister Jonathan Boucher—who happened to be a close friend of George Washington—mentions the word eggnog. A 1788 New-Jersey Journal article describes a young man who consumed "thirty raw eggs, a glass of egg nog, and another of brandy sling," according to Thespruceeats.com.

Sometime during the 17th century, alcohol became an ingredient in eggnog recipes. Sherry was first introduced as an ingredient in Europe, and eggnog was often used as a toast to health and prosperity. Because milk, eggs, and sherry were scarce in Europe, eggnog was primarily a beverage if the ruling class.

An American Tradition

Eggnog became associated with the holiday season when it “crossed the pond” to America. According to the Time.com article “A Brief History of Eggnog,” it was popular to add rum to this eggy beverage prior to making a holiday toast.

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Colonists could get inexpensive rum from the Caribbean at a fraction of the cost of wine, brandy, or other liquors imported from England. They also had an abundant supply of milk and eggs. Eggnog with rum quickly became a popular holiday drink for people of all classes.

Even George Washington was a fan of this Yuletide beverage. According to Time.com, Washington wrote down his own “heavy-on-the-alcohol” eggnog recipe. However, he failed to record the number of eggs required, although modern estimations say a dozen eggs will suffice.

Even our founding father, George Washington, enjoyed eggnog.

Even our founding father, George Washington, enjoyed eggnog.

George Washington’s Eggnog Recipe

Ingredients

  • One dozen eggs
  • One quart cream
  • One quart milk
  • One dozen tablespoons of sugar
  • One pint of brandy
  • 1/2 pint of rye whiskey
  • 1/2 pint of Jamaica rum
  • 1/4 pint of sherry

Steps

  1. Mix liquor first, then separate yolks and whites of eggs.
  2. Add sugar to beaten yolks and mix well.
  3. Add milk and cream, slowly beating.
  4. Beat whites of eggs until stiff and fold slowly into mixture.
  5. Let set in a cool place for several days.
  6. Taste frequently.

Modern vs. Traditional

Many eggnog “purists” argue that those who don’t like eggnog have never tasted the actual beverage. The versions sold in supermarkets today are laced heavily with sugar. According to Time.com, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration also stipulates that the beverage can be labeled “eggnog” if it contains as little as 1% egg yolk, very different from the dozen or so eggs the original recipes require.

Love it or hate it, eggnog remains a popular beverage during the Christmas season. But please drink responsibly. Not only is it often laced with alcohol, but one glass may contain as many as 400 calories. Cheers!

Sources

Dias, Elizabeth (2011, December 21). “A Brief History of Eggnog.” Time Magazine. https://time.com/3957265/history-of-eggnog/

Graham, Colleen (2021, August 13). “The Origins of Eggnog: A Favorite Christmas Cocktail.” The Spruce Eats. https://www.thespruceeats.com/origins-of-eggnog-760173

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