It’s Christmas, and while the season is full of merriment and music and movies from Thanksgiving all the way to New Year’s, on Christmas day there are only three things that matter: family, gifts and food. Christmas is one of the best food holidays on the calendar, but we’re not here to debate goose, ham or roast beast. We are here to talk desserts. And with that, we’ve put the best Christmas desserts (and drinks) in a bracket showdown to determine which sweet is the go-to treat this Christmas. And hey, debating the best desserts at your dinner table sure beats talking politics with your uncle.


Pies Region

1) Pumpkin

Pumpkin pie was pumpkin-flavored before it was cool. It’s the quintessential holiday dessert – popular at Thanksgiving and Christmas alike – and though its flavor has come to be synonymous with the season, no other iteration comes anywhere near its goodness.

2) Apple

It may not solely exist as a holiday dessert, but there are few pleasures simpler than apple pie, and nothing tastes better a la mode. There are a lot of fancy ways to dress up holiday food, but sometimes it’s best to stick with what you know.

3) Pecan

Pecan pie is a classic “I thought I hated this but realized I actually love it” food. If you’re a kid, why would you choose a dessert with nuts when sugar cookies and chocolate pie are sitting around? Coming around to that sweet, syrupy flavor as you get older is a wonderful feeling.

4) Chocolate

Not everyone loves pumpkin. Not everyone loves nuts. Not everyone loves fruit pies. I guess not everyone loves chocolate, either, but if you’re not a fan of any other classic pie category, there’s a good chance you love one of the dozens of varieties: From pudding pie to chocolate mousse, there’s a lot to love.

The Pies Region Showdown:

Without a doubt, this is the toughest region, so we thought we’d get it out of the way first. The 4-seed here could put up a nasty fight against any of the other top spots if this was a free-for-all, but life isn’t fair, and neither is dessert. 1) Pumpkin takes on 4) Chocolate to start, taunting its opponent the whole time for lack of seasonal specificity; the number of days left for appropriately enjoying pumpkin flavors are dwindling, and you’ve got to pay respects to that original pumpkin dessert. The 2) Apple vs. 3) Pecan battle is much closer, but the 3-seed edges out. That sweet, syrupy base is only found in a holiday pecan pie; the apple-cinnamon fix will have to wait.

All sides fought valiantly, but it’s 1) Pumpkin vs. 3) Pecan for the regional title. It’s almost not fair, since pecan pie is one of our kind’s greatest dessert achievements, but pumpkin’s more the crowd-pleaser, and the one whose absence would be more deeply felt if it wasn’t on the table in the first place. The top (pumpkin) seed is on to the Final Four.



Drinks Region

1) Eggnog

If pumpkin pie is the quintessential holiday dessert, then eggnog is the quintessential beverage. Even cider and hot chocolate can be enjoyed all fall and winter long, but eggnog only comes out for Christmas. Best enjoyed the Clark Griswold way: Shoved down your throat in a fit of holiday rage, or sipped from a mug with moose ears while trying to tolerate your family’s shenanigans.

2) Punch

Here is the ultimate holiday party drink: It’s festive, it’s fun, and you can make a huge batch in one fell swoop. You can easily make it with or without alcohol depending on your crowd, too, but its best quality might be that it gives you an excuse to make an awesome ice ring.

3) Apple Cider

Nothing quite warms you up like a hot cup of cider with cinnamon stick. If you’ve already eaten apples straight-up and baked them in pie, it’s a tasty way to keep enjoying one of fall and winter’s signature flavors (and, like punch, it can be easily spiked).

4) Hot Chocolate

Want to drink your dessert? Hot chocolate is the way to go; it’s also easy to dress up with whipped cream or a candy cane stir stick. However you take it, though, it’s one of the coziest holiday treats.

The Drinks Region Showdown:

Pretty stacked field here, considering these are all delicious drinks and all have a special winter or holiday quality to them. In the 1) Eggnog vs. 4) Hot Chocolate battle, though, it’s got to be eggnog – the seasonal beverage most closely associated with its time of year. Hot chocolate will still be there for you in January. Now, to the middle seeds: 2) Punch vs. 3) Apple Cider is tricky; they have few shared qualities but both have stand alone on their individual merits. It’s not an upset for the history books, but the 3-seed’s taking it here; cozying up in front of the fire with a cold glass of punch doesn’t have quite the same Currier & Ives feel as a piping hot mug of cider.

It comes down to 1) Eggnog vs. 3) Apple Cider, an important fight, since you need something to wash down the rest of the meal. So grab a long-eared moose mug Clark Griswold would be proud of, and dive into a bowl of the spiciest, creamiest, most holiday-epitomizing drink there ever was: 1) Eggnog is the favorite for a reason here. Come to think of it, the thought of washing down a meal with eggnog isn’t appetizing at all; maybe enjoy it pre-meal with the hors d’oeuvres, but make sure it’s somewhere on your holiday table.



Cookies Region

1) Gingerbread men/women/houses

Like sugar cookies, their main value is in their ability to be decorated (or in the case of gingerbread houses, assembled), but they win out with the higher seed because their flavor is more specifically seasonal, and there’s something sadly entertaining about biting off the head.

2) Sugar cookies

They’re nothing special on the surface, but a solid sugar cookie recipe can actually be pretty tasty; at Christmas, though, their real value is in their function as a blank canvas for all sorts of frosting art.

3) Russian Tea Cakes

What’s in a name? Whether you know them by Russian Tea Cakes, Mexican Wedding Cakes, Snowball Cookies, or something else, you know their melt-in-your-mouth, not-too-sweet, drenched-in-powdered sugar perfection is irresistible.

4) Peanut Butter Blossoms

When it comes to baking, not much is easier than plopping a Hershey Kiss on top of a warm peanut butter cookie. It’s a simple but delicious recipe, and it marries two flavors that were made for each other. And even though the chocolate tastes the same any time of year, they’re even more fun to make around the holidays when you have to peel off dozens of the red-and-green metallic candy wrappers.

The Cookies Region Showdown:

Asking someone to rank Christmas cookies might be like asking them to pick a favorite child. Maybe one has a slight edge, but you’d never admit it, and they’re all so wonderful that it’s impossible to bestow a crown without hurting some feelings. Alas, we’re faced with 1) Gingerbread vs. 4) Peanut Butter Blossoms. It’s tempting to go for the upset here, because gingerbread can have its iffy moments depending on the recipe. But assuming the best in the bakers, we’ve got to give it to #1; it’s quintessentially a holiday treat, and maybe you loaded up on the chocolate/peanut butter combo with Reese’s from the candy dish before the meal really got going. In the middle of the bracket, we’re tempted by 2) Sugar cookies vs. 3) Russian Tea Cakes. We’re giving the edge to 2) Sugar Cookies, though, solely because of their qualities as a blank canvas for all sorts of frosting creations.

The region is won in a battle of decorate-able goodness: 1) Gingerbread vs. 2) Sugar cookies. It might not be fair, but #1 elbows its way to a narrow victory thanks to superior taste and unique flavor, and because, well, one of life’s simple pleasures is taking a clean bite off the head of a little gingerbread person. That little gingerbread man is taking his legs and marching right into the final four.



Miscellaneous/Wild Card Region

1) Fruitcake

None other than Johnny Carson is partially blamed for the fruitcake’s sorry reputation; he once joked that only one fruitcake existed in the world and it just got passed from house to house. If boozy desserts are your thing, fruitcake might be right up your alley; it’s typically soaked in rum. But if you’ve gone this long without ever trying a bite, it’s probably fine to let fruitcake go on existing as the Christmas dessert everyone loves to hate.

2) Fudge

“Oh, fudge….Except I didn’t say fudge.” Yes, this is a classic, delicious treat, but it’s also a key element of one of the most wonderful scenes from “A Christmas Story.” Win-win.

3) Figgy pudding

You’ve sang the words a thousand times, but have you ever stopped to think about what a figgy pudding actually is? Maybe it should be grateful no one really understands it; it’s not that much different from fruitcake, which has a notoriously bad rap, but does without the brightly colored chunks and is steamed, not simply baked.

4) Yule Log

The Yule Log, or Buche de Noel as it’s known in French, is a rolled sponge cake often served with meringue mushrooms (yep, those are a real thing). Nick Offerman found a way to improve upon the TV version of the Yule Log; maybe next year he’ll tackle the edible iteration.

The Wild Card Region Showdown:

1) Fruitcake vs. 4) Yule Log might be the 1-4 matchup with the greatest distance between the two competitors. No offense to the Yule Log, but we’ll leave mysterious mushrooms for another day and go with a dessert that has no less mystery but a little more ironic holiday prestige. Besides, if you take a piece of fruitcake, you get to find out what those brightly colored fruit chunks actually taste like. And let’s face it, a holiday plate only has so much space – you can’t afford two different varieties of nut-filled mystery cake. With a fruitcake slice already sitting there, the 2) Fudge vs. 3) Figgy pudding decision is pretty much made for you – save the figgy pudding for your Christmas carol and take a piece of fudge.

That leaves 1) Fruitcake vs. 2) Fudge to fight for the king of holiday odds & ends. After some internal debate, you reach for a piece of that rich, chocolatey goodness and never look back. It was already relegated to the “Miscellaneous” category; now 2) Fudge is really going to fight for its place at the big-kids’ table in a battle against gingerbread in the final four.



Final Four

We’re looking pretty chalky, but there’s still a chance for a minor upset going into the Final Four. Our challengers are:

Side 1: Pies champion 1) Pumpkin vs. Drinks champion 1) Eggnog

Side 2: Cookies champion 1) Gingerbread vs. Miscellaneous champion 2) Fudge

Let’s take a look at Side 1; no offense to the sweets on the other side, but here you have arguably the two foods in this bracket most closely associated with the holiday season. They are what you look forward to. When it comes down to it, though, eggnog’s in a special class. It takes a cup of cheer to truly personify the holidays, and eggnog has what it takes. It’s going on to the final.

Who will the drinks champion have to face? Fudge already toppled one holiday mainstay, overtaking fruitcake in the Miscellaneous bracket, but lightning doesn’t strike twice. If there’s room left for one tiny treat on your plate, it’s going to the little gingerbread man – even if he’s pleading for you not to take the gumdrop buttons. Fudge played a great game, but it’s heading back to the dessert platter and hoping for a second chance when you come back to grab seconds.

The final is set: 1) Eggnog, the drinks champ, vs. 1) Gingerbread, king of cookies.

The battle is tough. When it comes to the holidays, traditions run deep and emotions run high. It’s a well-fought contest, but in the end, eggnog comes out on top. It’s as synonymous with the holiday as any food will ever be, and it’s suitable for any crowd. It can be the appetizer or the last round; it can be for kids or grown-ups. No matter the party, eggnog is a welcome guest. Cheers.

About Paige Landsem

Paige is a native Oregonian now living and working in NYC. She's a University of Oregon journalism graduate (Go Ducks, obviously) who knows nothing but suffering from Seattle Mariners fandom. She's typically found doing some combination of writing, reading, discovering new films and favorite performers, exploring NYC, quoting The West Wing and 30 Rock, obsessing over her recently acquired record player, and plotting trips to visit family, friends, and new places.