Why People In Saratoga Springs Smash Peppermint Pigs For Christmas

One guilty pleasure secretly shared by nearly everyone is that of breaking stuff. Okay, so it's not so fun if the breaking takes place by accident, and it's your (or worse, your mom's) favorite antique vase that now lies in a million pieces. If the "oopsie" accidentally-on-purpose involves that ugly old lamp you've always hated, though, it's an entirely different story. Even better is socially-sanctioned destruction such as the breaking of a glass that takes place at a Jewish wedding (via the Pocono Record), or the sweetly aggressive Christmas custom of whacking off a piece of peppermint pig with a hammer.

The Christmas peppermint pig dates back to Victorian times, or, to be more country-correct, Hayes/Garfield/Arthur/Clevelandian times. These were the U.S. presidents during the 1880s ( via History, Art & Archives), and the peppermint pig took root in Saratoga Springs, New York, a place that was never part of Queen Victoria's extensive empire. The New York Times speculates that the All-American peppermint pig may have been created as an alternative to the European marzipan pig associated with the holiday season.

The peppermint pig is meant to bring good luck

The first peppermint pigs, according to The New York Times, were the invention of a man named Jim Mangay. He was the son of an apothecary, so he had access to an ample supply of peppermint oil that he used to flavor his confectionery creation. According to The Vermont Country Store, there soon arose a tradition surrounding this little piggie. This animal, like its marzipan counterpart, was meant to symbolize health, wealth, and happiness, and eating a piece was said to grant all of these good things (calories and tooth decay notwithstanding). Due to the peppermint pig's more breakable nature, hammers soon came into play.

Accounts differ as to how the pig parts are to be distributed. The messier version espoused by the NYT seems to involve each person hammering off their own piece while reciting a fortunate event from the past year. (Shades of Thanksgiving!) A neater version may involve placing the pig in a bag to break it apart before distributing the bounty, with or without the gratitude affirmations.

While the original peppermint pigs were a victim of WWII sugar rationing, the tradition was revived in 1988 by a candy store called Saratoga Sweets. They remain the sole manufacturer of said pig (now trademarked), but these candies, along with accompanying bags and hammers, are sold by a number of different retailers. As per Bobrow Distributing, there are several different styles of pig as well as a "muddy" variety dipped in chocolate.