Why do Dutch people give chocolate letters? When we receive our initial on “Pakjesavond” December 5 or at Christmas most of us just eat the delicious chocolate without wondering why this unique tradition is still practiced. The history of receiving a “letter” dates back centuries but originally letters were made of pastry. This is why almond pastry rings are still called “banket letter” by some people. I still remember my mother receiving a banket “C” for her birthday from a friend who was an excellent baker. In the days before gift wrapping, parents would spread a bed sheet over the gifts for “Sinterklaas”. They would then mark the place of each child’s gift with the child’s initial. Still life paintings of old Dutch masters from the 16th & 17th centuries show these pastry initials.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the Dutch chocolate industry began to make letters in chocolate. The shift to chocolate letters was quick and enthusiastic. During World War II, supply shortages meant no chocolate letters but even then letters were made of gingerbread. Once rationing ended chocolate letter manufacturing was quick to resume.
For the Dutch emigres and us, their descendants, the tradition provides a strong connection to our roots. Opas and Omas of large families can give a personalized gift to each grandchild…there is something very special about getting one’s own letter. Of course, the children who got a M or a W always thought they got more chocolate than the poor child whose name started with I. But an I for Ingrid was still better than not getting your letter if your name started with a Q, X, Y or Z. Today, however, all the letters of the alphabet are available…for a limited time, of course. We have already bagged up about 170 pre-orders for our customers on our Chocolate Letter Registry but there are still lots of letters to pick from!
Here at The European Pantry where we have customers that reflect a wide variety of heritages, we find that the idea of giving a letter is catching on with the non-Dutch customer, too. It is such a simple way to give a small personalized thank you to a hair dresser or delivery person. They also can be used as an innovative way to mark place settings at a holiday gathering. Other people use them in the historical way as name tags for gifts.
The chocolate that our letters are made of is all UTZ certified to guarantee ethical production conditions for the chocolate bean farmers and their families. Learn more about UTZ certifications here.
Image Credit: Still Life with Letter Pastries by Peter Binoit – Link Here