Oink to the World: How Smashing a Peppermint Pig Became an American Christmas Tradition

Saratoga Candy Co.
Saratoga Candy Co. / Saratoga Candy Co.
This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Roller skating in Venezuela and eating KFC in Japan are just a couple of the world's unique Christmas customs. But you don't need to leave the United States to experience one of the holiday's most unusual traditions. In Saratoga Springs, New York, families mark the day by smashing a peppermint pig with a hammer.

According to The New York Times, the practice originated with a local man named Jim Mangay in the 1880s. Saratoga Springs was a bustling tourist town during that time, and European chefs who had come to work at hotels there wanted a substitute for marzipan candy. Marzipan wasn't easy to find in the area, but Mangay did have access to peppermint oil from his father's apothecary. He used the ingredient to make pig-shaped candies that mimicked marzipan's playful designs, even if they didn't quite capture the taste and texture.

The confection soon found its way into local holiday traditions. In Saratoga Springs, families place a peppermint pig in a small sack and pass it around the table after dinner on Christmas. After whacking it with a metal hammer, each guest shares something good that happened to them in the previous year. The ritual ends with everyone taking a shard of candy, symbolizing prosperity and good fortune in the new year.

The custom nearly died out during World War II. Due to sugar rationing, peppermint pigs disappeared from shelves, and it wasn't until 1988 that local candy-maker Mike Fitzgerald revived the treat. His company Saratoga Sweets prioritizes tradition in their peppermint pig production: The candies contain all the original ingredients, and they're even made using casts of the century-old molds.

Today peppermint pigs are sold through catalogs, museum gifts shops, and stores on the East Coast. You can also buy your own candy pig online.