Peppermint Pig: a curious Christmas tradition in Saratoga Springs, New York~3 min read
Yes. Smashing this pink candy pig with a tiny hammer is a curious Christmas tradition in Saratoga Springs, New York.
Here, on Christmas Day families gather around tables to smash candies with hammers: a small pink candy with the shape of a peppermint pig, represent a tradition dating back to the 19th century.
According to a local story, it was a regular quiet Christmas-Eve-night in the quaint Victorian village of Saratoga Springs.
The first dusting of winter’s snow gathered in darkened downtown doorways and twirled by night’s wind seemed to dance and whirl like sugarplum fairies.
Behind the oaken doors of gingerbread-sized candy shops that dotted Saratoga, tireless old candy makers, bathed in amber glow of crackling hearth and bubbling candy pots, labored on into the night creating and continuing a holiday tradition known to all as the “Peppermint Pig”.
Historically, the pig is honored in Victorian holiday tradition as a symbol of good health, happiness and prosperity, and Peppermint Pig is an unique tradition of Saratoga Springs.
Local tradition says that a Saratoga-based chef invented the peppermint pigs as a substitute for popular, but difficult to find European marzipan candies in the 1880s.
At the time Saratoga Springs was a thriving resort town with two of the world’s largest hotels and lively casinos. It is believed that chefs from Europe who came to work at the hotels influenced Jim Mangay, the creator of the pigs, to make something that approximated marzipan candy. But marzipan was not readily available, so Mr. Mangay adapted, using peppermint oil from his father’s apothecary.
So the candy became beloved holiday rituals, however, years later, the casinos would close, Saratoga’s popularity would slightly wane and sugar rationing during World War II brought production to a forced halt.
But in 1988, a local candy-maker named Mike Fitzgerald decided to resurrect the pigs and their tradition.
That first year, using an original mold someone had saved, Mr. Fitzgerald made his first run of about 60 to 70 pigs.
Today, Fitzgerald’s team at Saratoga Sweets still uses natural peppermint oil flavoring and shapes the candy with aluminum alloy molds that have been cast from the century-old originals. When the cooled molds are carefully opened, they reveal a small pink pig inside!
Still today, after Christmas dinner, a family member deposits the pig into a small sack. So, using a small, metal hammer, each person at the table gives the pink pig a thwack, and shares a story of their good fortune from the past year. Once everyone has had a turn, the sack is dumped out and the pig’s pieces are shared among the guests, in the hopes of ushering in another year of happiness and prosperity.
Saratoga Sweets produces more than 100,000 pigs each year, and lucky visitors to the shop might even get to meet a real pig: in fact, in 2013, Fitzgerald adopted two live Kunekune pigs, Charlie and Clyde!