Gingerbread is one of the most famous cookie varieties worldwide, with many countries adopting the tradition of consuming it during the Christmas season during the middle ages and giving the treat their signature spins.
According to an apocryphal story, the father of European gingerbread cookies is the Armenian monk Gregory of Nicopolis, who settled in France in 992 and taught the French Christians how to bake the cookie. From France, the recipe likely spread to Poland as Polish Torun gingerbread is the oldest recorded gingerbread cookie variety. It supposedly inspired the German Lebkuchen and Swedish Pepparkakor as German immigrants brought it first to Sweden and then to their native lands. From there, it spread to the rest of Europe, taking many forms, including English ginger nuts (also called gingersnaps), Czech Pernik, and American soft, molasses-based gingerbread cookies.
Interestingly, the tradition of calling the cookies gingerbread comes from England! And, according to historical claims, it was Queen Elizabeth I who invented the gingerbread men! The now-traditional Christmas decoration was served to visiting dignitaries as a show of England's wealth and power.
The tradition of gingerbread as a Christmas cookie is thought to have come from Germany, with brightly decorated Gingerbread houses becoming the staple decoration of the season in the early 19th century due to the popularity of Brothers Grimm’s Hansel & Gretel.