Piparkakku (Ginger bread cookie) is an old Finnish Christmas tradition that has a steady hold on the culinary aspect of the annual celebration, much like the Christmas ham.
Before the Ginger cookie was invented, the Finns indulged themselves with honey cookies, made of only flour and honey, for honey was the only available sweetener. But as soon as the Orient began to supply the world with exotic spices, they were also included in the dough, thus creating the ginger cookie.
Ginger cookies were introduced to the northern part of Europe probably through monasteries. These cookies were known in Finland during the end part of the medieval times. In the beginning, only the rich and the church baked ginger cookies but when the middleclass began to drink coffee during the eighteenth century and the rest of the population picked up the habit by the end of the nineteenth century, the ginger bread cookie found its way to the common table.
The recipes used vary a great deal depending on the country and culture. The Scandinavians prefer plenty of butter in their dough, while the Germans use almonds.
The ginger bread cookies are not used only as a dessert in Finland: the Finns have decorated their Christmas trees with ginger bread cookies for a long time. Nowadays the cookies that are hung on the trees are also made of scented clay.
Another great favorite during Christmas is the Christmas tart (or plum tart). Unfortunately I couldn't find any history about this desert but it has been around for at least a century and is regarded as an immovable Christmas tradition by most Finns today.