What Is Eggnog—and Why Do We Drink It at Christmas?

It wouldn't be Christmas without eggnog!

Let’s hear it for eggnog, the merriest beverage of the season. Not every holiday has its own drink—sorry, Thanksgiving, turkey soda doesn’t count. But it wouldn’t be Christmas without some old-fashioned eggnog, whether hot or cold, spiked or family-friendly.

What Is Eggnog?

In simplest terms, it’s a delightfully creamy sweet drink made with eggs, cream and a variety of spices.

It has a fun history—and a fun name. “Nog is a word for a kind of beer that was brewed in England, and that’s where the drink originated,” says Very Merry Cocktails author Jessica Strand. “It crossed over to the colonies and has since been a part of the US and Canada’s holiday traditions.”

Eggnog is usually served cold, but you may choose to heat it, especially if you’re coming in from making snowmen or ice skating. And you can adult-it-up with brandy, rum or your spirit of choice, but it’s also delicious simply spiked with vanilla or cinnamon.

What’s in Eggnog?

The drink is traditionally made with eggs—of course—as well as whole milk, heavy whipping cream and sugar. People often add brandy or rum, as well as such spices as nutmeg and cinnamon.

Strand says that using real eggs, rather than an eggnog mix, makes an enormous difference in taste and texture. She uses a full dozen eggs to make enough eggnog for 24 drinks!

What Does Eggnog Taste Like?

Eggnog might be the closest you’ll come to drinking melted custard. It’s made with whole milk AND heavy whipping cream! Think sweet and creamy and very rich—a small punch cup full is usually plenty.

The spices, such as cinnamon and nutmeg, save the drink from being bland and boring—and so does the booze, if you add it.

Eggnog is such a traditional Christmas flavor that it’s also used to make holiday recipes like eggnog biscotti, eggnog fudge and eggnog fruit fluff. McDonald’s even has a seasonal eggnog shake.

How Do You Make Eggnog?

Preparing Eggnog for Christmas in the kitchenGMVozd/Getty Images

You can buy ready-made eggnog, but it’s not hard to make your own. Most recipes will call for plenty of eggs (it’s smart to buy pasteurized eggs—no one wants a Christmas gift of salmonella).

Whipping cream, whole milk, sugar, vanilla and spices are common ingredients. I recommend our homemade eggnog recipe or this recipe for vegan eggnog that uses cashews and coconut milk to make a creamy holiday drink.

Want to deck out your eggnog for a Christmas party? Strand suggests adding orange or lemon zest on top as a garnish, or topping your drink with whipped cream and a sprinkling of cocoa. Cheers to the season!

Why Is Eggnog a Christmas Drink?

Strand says the specific taste of eggnog is wrapped up with memories of Christmas, thanks to flavors like cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla bean, which embody the winter season.

It’s so rich that it makes for a nice holiday party treat, too!

Holiday Recipes to Make with Eggnog
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Gael Fashingbauer Cooper
Gael Fashingbauer Cooper is a pop culture junkie and the co-author of Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops and The Totally Sweet '90s. She covers TV, movies, books and pop culture, as well as food news of all kinds. Gael is a weblog pioneer who started her first blog, Pop Culture Junk Mail, in 1999.