Food & Drink

Readers share stories of leaving snacks for Santa Claus and his reindeer

Move over cookies and milk? Readers share their family traditions for what they left for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve, including pizza, tangerines, even Limburger cheese and onion sandwiches.
Move over cookies and milk? Readers share their family traditions for what they left for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve, including pizza, tangerines, even Limburger cheese and onion sandwiches. jhansen@newsobserver.com

One thing is clear about Christmas Eve: We put a lot of thought into what snacks to leave out for Santa Claus.

For some families, the classic cookies and milk are enough. Others break from tradition, serving slices of pizza, an ice cold beer, even a Limburger cheese and onion sandwich. Other families make sure the reindeer are refueled by leaving out carrots, water or hay. One young girl did not believe Santa had time to stop and eat and so insisted on packing a to-go bag.

Here are our readers’ stories as you decide what treats to leave for Santa tonight:

Tangerine peels in fireplace

John Price, 61, of Raleigh

When I was growing up in Jackson, N.C., my sister and I always left a snack for Santa Claus. Cookies and milk were always on the menu. However, Santa Claus always got a tangerine as well. Every year, he would eat the tangerine and toss the peel into the fireplace. I guess Santa Claus assumed that the fire would burn the peel and he was not littering. However, he failed to notice that the logs in the fireplace were electric and decorative. So every Christmas morning my sister and I enjoyed cleaning up after Santa. It was the least we could do after the haul he left for us.

Something just in case

Mary Prentis Jones, 59, of Raleigh

Back in the 1960s, my family participated in the traditional offering of cookies and eggnog for Santa Claus and carrots and celery for the reindeer. The story that continues to make the rounds around our Christmas table, much to my chagrin, is the year that I came downstairs well after bedtime with an item we had forgotten: a roll of toilet paper in case, Santa, well, you know.

Keeping Rudolph aloft

Cristine Karasek, 59, of Cary

When I was 4 years old, my Uncle Bob gave me a carved wooden reindeer. It was painted brown with white spots, like a fawn. There were four separate pieces that interlocked to give the reindeer his legs, body, head and ears. His nose was carved to receive a red glass Christmas ornament. It was Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer!

My uncle said Rudolph required a carrot each evening before I went to bed. He would eat the carrot during the night; that’s how he kept his magical abilities, like flying and lighting the way for Santa’s sleigh.

Each December night from that point forward (for more than 50 years), as soon as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer takes his place on the fireplace hearth, a single carrot is left for him before we go to bed. In the morning, it’s gone – and Rudolph still has his Christmas magic.

Hay on the roof

Chris Ogden, 54, of Cary

Being on a farm, looking out for animals was a primary concern for our family. Santa Claus’ reindeer got special consideration for that reason. Our house was very old, with a painted tin roof, and there was one area outside my bedroom window that flattened out enough for something to be put on top of it. My father said that was where Santa would land. He got on a ladder and hauled a full bale of hay and carrots up to that spot. The reindeer definitely appreciated it, as each Christmas morning I would wake up, immediately look out of my window, and see only remnants of hay and no carrots left at all.

Sentimental pizza

Valerie Lapham, 60, of Durham

When our girls were young (they’re all in their 30s now with children of their own), we always had pizza for dinner on Christmas Eve and made sure there was a slice or two set aside for Santa Claus. We would set the plate near their stockings, along with a few carrots for Rudolph and the other reindeer. When the girlswould get up in the morning, they would find all but a few bites of the pizza gone and a half of a carrot.

Here is the back story: Their dad and I met at a pizza place where we were both working part time while in college. Since I had started working there before he was hired, I taught him how to make pizza the company way (hand-tossed with just the right amount of sauce, cheese and toppings). He later went to work for that company in the management program when we were first married. So the pizza force is strong in our family.

He forgot his hat

Theresa Stephenson, 58, of Raleigh

We have always left cookies and milk for Santa Claus; some store-bought, and sometimes freshly baked. One year when my daughter was maybe 3 years old, we got up on Christmas morning and found Santa’s hat on the floor close to where we had left his snack. My daughter was thrilled. I told her we would have to save it and put it with his snack next year.

Lactose-free beverage

Betsy Ziegler, 63, of Fuquay-Varina

When my son was an infant, we discovered he was lactose intolerant. Before he could talk, we would leave out milk and cookies for Santa. But when he got older and understood why we were leaving out the treats, he became concerned that Santa also might have problems with drinking milk. From then on, we had to substitute the milk with either orange juice or soda. When my daughter came along, she was concerned that the reindeer might be hungry, and we started leaving out carrots.

Take-out for the trip

Jean Martin, 72, of Raleigh

As a child, my only concern about Santa Claus was scheduling. I worried that Santa, who obviously had a tight agenda and needed constant personal refueling, simply did not have the time to eat and drink at each house. I worried about those long stretches of oceans and deserts with no houses and no chance of snacking. What about the team of tireless reindeer? Did they not need a little pick-me-up, too?

My parents let me pack a to-go bag with hot chocolate, cookies and hay. I would include a thank-you note, which suggested that Santa enjoy the treat later while cruising over the Atlantic Ocean. I’m way grown up now, but I continue to believe that Santa and his team are grateful for the thoughtful take-out and look forward to stopping at our house.

A fragrant sandwich

Elaine Schilling Priest, 77, of Lake Wylie, S.C.

There was no more exciting or sparkling event than Christmas and Santa Claus’ visit to a 5-year-old girl in the 1940s. I vividly recall leaving Santa Claus’ favorite Christmas Eve mid-journey snack in front of our Christmas tree. The usual Limberger cheese and onion sandwich disappeared without fail. I remember defending this odd choice to the neighborhood kids, reminding them that our sandwich was probably a welcome relief from the numerous milk and cookies that were left for him.

Veggies for the reindeer

Sandra Dillard Arscott, 71, of Cary

I am a grandmother who grew up leaving cookies and milk for Santa Claus. Imagine my surprise when I saw my daughter left celery and carrots in the lawn for the reindeer. My grandchildrenalso always checked the lawn to see if the reindeer had been there before checking Santa’s cookie plate. And, they always found some chewed celery and carrots on the front lawn.

Homemade cookies

Abby Lewis, 13, of Cary

Our family loves Christmas. We’ve always loved setting up a real tree. We put up lights, have an Advent calendar and put out cookies and milk for Santa. Every year, homemade cookies are placed ceremonially on our mantel. We also put a bowl of water out for his reindeer. Not many people do this, but, having a dog, we understand that pets have to drink too. However, we do have to be careful that our own dog doesn’t drink the water before Christmas morning.

Cheerios for reindeer

Alice B. Bogle, 56, of Burlington

We would leave homemade cookies and hot chocolate for Santa Claus, a big bowl of Cheerios for his reindeer plus a note thanking him and wishing him a merry Christmas.

Santa brought the tree and presents on Christmas Eve. On Christmas morning, we would hurry down the stairs from our bedrooms to see the beautifully decorated tree and the wrapped gifts under it. No matter how many times we did this, it always amazed us.

The most memorable year for me was the year we came down to find long streamers coming from the tree leading to the basement. Each streamer had one of our names on it. We followed the streamers and found each one attached to a new bicycle. There was even a tricycle for the youngest. We rode those bikes all day – best Christmas ever and one I will never forget.

Granny’s special plate

Lisa Kennedy Duke, 49, of Cary

My grandmother, who was known as “GG” for Gracious Grandmother or Granny Grumps, depending on her mood, received an annual personalized Christmas plate from a friend starting in the 1960s. During my childhood, we would use stacks of them for our Christmas breakfast. When I got married, she gave me the plate from my birth year. After my two boys were born, I started using it as our plate for Santa Claus’ goodies. The kids would usually fill the plate with cookies, but also turkey and cheese as that’s what they liked to eat for lunch. Now that the boys are 17 and 20, we use the plates to enjoy Christmas breakfast as we remember GG.

A red reminder

Donna Whitfield, 54, of Plymouth

I grew up outside Chapel Hill in the White Cross community. My sister and I would always leave the usual milk and cookies for Santa Claus each year on the kitchen table. But what was unusual would be what we found on Christmas morning. Each year the chair in the kitchen where Santa would sit to drink the milk and cookies would have a red stain on it. It was as if Santa Claus’ red suit had stained the chair due to the hot Southern conditions. Santa Claus must have sweated through his suit to leave the stain.

A nice cold beer

Kelly Gascoigne, 45, of Raleigh

When Santa Claus visited the working-class neighborhoods of suburban Detroit in the 1970s, his tastes were apparently simple and low budget. It wasn’t until my teenage years that I realized that not everyone left a cold beer and cookies for him. And none of these microbrews of present day. Oh, no. Santa liked a cold Budweiser or Pabst Blue Ribbon. Just one.

Thirsty for a brew

Karen McClure, 63, of Charlotte

This is probably my earliest Christmas memory. The year was 1956. I was 5 years old. My sister was 8. Our father was a student at N.C. State University. We were living in modest student housing. Our mother had a secretarial job to support us while our father got his engineering degree. We heard Santa Claus’ sleigh bells ringing outside while he circled the house. But we always missed him when we ran to the windows. Our mother told us that we should leave Santa Claus a beer on the kitchen table because he would be thirsty from delivering all the gifts. I remember – even at such a young age – questioning that, but my mother assured me that is what he would want. The next morning, the beer can was empty and our gifts were under the tree. So it became our tradition to leave Santa Claus a cold beer.

Cheese and crackers

Debbie Skinner of Elm City

I was probably about 8 years old when I was concerned about what to leave Santa. I asked my daddy after everyone left. He put on a stool a half a fifth of Four Roses bourbon, cheese and crackers. He said it would warm up Santa Claus.

A cigarette and a beer

Robert Wood of Charlotte

Being a Southern redneck (not quite trailer trash), we left Santa a beer and a cigarette. I still remember the sparkle in my children’s eyes when on Christmas morning, they saw the crushed can and snuffed-out cigarette butt in the ashtray, and Santa had been there.

Coke and Mom’s cake

Amnaris Faggart Miller, 71, of Kannapolis

The year is 1949, and I am 6 years old. I am the baby of a large family of nine children. It’s Christmas Eve and we are all excited and cannot believe this day is finally here.

Santa Claus will be coming for his annual visit, and he will be tired and hungry from all his deliveries. What would Santa Claus like for his special treat? I love my mother’s homemade cake, and I know Santa will, too. I cut a big slice of cake to go with a small bottle of Coke.

Christmas morning is here and on Santa’s plate are a few cake crumbs and an empty Coke bottle. Santa liked it; he really liked it.

12 fruitcake cookies

Thomas Wayne Allen, 55, of Zebulon

My tradition has not changed much. I leave a dozen fruitcake cookies on a big Santa plate. Santa Claus eats them all and his reindeer love them – after all, they have come such a long way to my home. Santa Claus told me that he loved fruitcake cookies more than any other ones. I’m still single with no kids of my own, but I still can count on my fruitcake cookies getting gone. Every year, they do. Santa leaves me a gift with a note: “See you next year. Love, Santa Claus and my reindeer and elves.”

Monkey balls devoured

Sally Herman Poland, 72, of Raleigh

’Twas the Night before Christmas in rural Indiana, and our young family longed for enduring traditions. We had celebrated the holidays in three different states in as many years. Recently we moved to a century-old farmhouse on a patch of land at the edge of a small town. There was snow on the ground, animals in the barn and a 14-foot Christmas tree in the parlor.

Leaving a snack for Santa Claus didn’t quite fit our concept of the holiday, but what about the reindeer? They just might enjoy the Osage oranges, also known as monkey balls, that were dropping from the trees along our farmyard fence. We hadn’t been able to find a practical use for the large, green, wrinkled balls, until now. On Christmas Eve, the children eagerly piled the monkey balls on a plate and placed it beside the kitchen fireplace. Christmas morning dawned with shrieks of astonishment and delight as our son and daughter dashed into the kitchen to discover the debris of chomped-up monkey balls scattered on the hearth. The reindeer had devoured their treats.

Fruit and tollhouse cookies

Ginny Byrne of Raleigh

I am an only child. On Christmas Eve at my home in Delaware, I left Santa some fruit and cookies. The fruit was usually an orange or an apple. The cookies were Toll House, ones that a child can easily make. My five other cousins and I left carrots on a plate for Santa’s reindeer. They had an important role to play each Christmas Eve.

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