On Christmas Day in Saratoga Springs, New York, families gather around tables to smash candies with hammers. This is the tradition of the peppermint pig, a small, pink candy with roots dating back to the 19th century.
After Christmas dinner, a family member deposits the pig into a small sack. Using a small, metal mallet, each person at the table gives the pink porker 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 piggy pieces are shared among the guests, in the hopes of ushering in another year of happiness and prosperity.
Local lore says that a Saratoga-based chef invented the peppermint pigs as a substitute for in-demand, but difficult-to-source European marzipan candies in the 1880s. While the candy and its rousing tradition became beloved holiday rituals, sugar rationing during World War II brought production to a halt.
But in 1988, a local candy-maker named Mike Fitzgerald decided to resurrect the 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.
Saratoga Sweets produces more than 100,000 pigs each year. Lucky visitors to the shop might even get to meet some real-life muses: In 2013, Fitzgerald adopted two live Kunekune pigs, Charlie and Clyde.