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Many Americans celebrate the Christmas season by imbibing a curious mixture of beaten eggs, spirits, and spices known as eggnog. This drink dates back to the colonial era. In those days, people sometimes called rum "grog." This fact leads some to believe that eggnog's original name was "egg and grog," which was later shortened into "eggnog." In spite of its American credentials, eggnog resembles a number of traditional northern European Christmas specialties, including the English lamb's wool and syllabub, the Dutch advocaat, and the Norwegian eggedosis. All of these recipes blend beaten eggs with wine, ale, or spirits. Lamb's wool may also contain cream or milk. American eggnog recipes usually call for some combination of beaten eggs, brandy, cream, sugar, and nutmeg.

Eggnog has been enlivening American Christmas festivities for several centuries. George Washington's Christmas guests might well have staggered home after one cup too many of his favorite eggnog preparation. His recipe requires one quart of cream, one quart of milk, one dozen eggs, one pint of brandy, one-half pint of rye, one-quarter pint of rum, and one-quarter pint of sherry (see also America, Christmas in Colonial). First Lady Dolley Madison entertained her guests with cinnamon eggnog, one of her Christmas specialties (for more onAmerican presidents, see White House, Christmas in). In 1826 cadets at the prestigious West Point Military Academy risked their careers for a taste of the traditional midwinter cheer. They staged a secretive eggnog party in direct disobedience of Superintendent Thayer's order that the academy observe a dry Christmas season. Designated cadets snuck the contraband ingredients past the sentries. On Christmas Eve they blackened the windows in their barracks, posted guards to warn of the approach of officers, and began the festivities. Officials somehow stumbled upon the scene at 4:30 a.m. The encounter between the drunken students and the outraged officers resulted in a bloody melee that left one cadet charged with attempted murder. The so-called "Eggnog Riot" eventually led to the voluntary resignation of six cadets and the court martial of nineteen of their fellows. Eleven of these were dismissed from the academy. Since seventy young men took part in the escapade, one might conclude that most got off easy. Many of these cadets hailed from prominent American families. Jefferson Davis, future president of the Confederate States of America, was one of them. As punishment for his participation in the eggnog conspiracy, school authorities arrested him and confined him to his quarters until February of the following year (see also America, Christmas in Nineteenth-Century).

In the late twentieth century fewer and fewer Americans seem willing to abandon themselves to the full-fledged eggnog experience. New low-fat and non-alcoholic versions of the old Christmas favorite sprout up every year, reflecting contemporary health concerns. The following old-fashioned eggnog recipe offers us a glimpse of the uninhibited pleasures of past eras:

Whisk together six eggs and two cups of sugar until fluffy and light. Continue stirring while slowly adding one quart of bourbon whiskey and one cup of rum. Slowly add four cups of milk, four cups half-and-half, and one cup heavy cream stirring all the while. Add grated nutmeg as desired. Chill and serve.

Further Reading

Sansom, William. The Book of Christmas. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1968. Snyder, Phillip. December 25th. New York: Dodd, Mead, and Company, 1985. Stevens, Patricia Bunning. Merry Christmas!: A History of the Holiday. New York: Macmillan, 1979.
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