Everyone loves chocolate and it’s one of the best and easiest Christmas gifts to buy. We show our love for chocolate by eating billions of pounds of it each year. And I’m not just talking about Snickers and M&Ms, although they are my favorites. I’m talking gourmet––prepared in a sophisticated and meticulous fashion, using high quality ingredients. Gourmet chocolate makes a rich, creamy, luxurious gift, and is an all-time favorite holiday present to give and receive.
Chocolate dates back as far as 2000 BC and is thought to have originated in the Amazon. It is derived from the cacao tree and was used by the Maya culture, where they would harvest, ferment, roast, and grind the seeds into a paste. When mixed with water and other ingredients, “this paste made a frothy, spicy chocolate drink," yet the taste was very bitter.
In both the Maya and Aztec cultures, chocolate, then called xocoatl or cacahuatl (meaning “bitter water"), played an important role in religious and social lives. To the Maya, the cocoa pods symbolized life and fertility, and were often used in religious rituals; they were referred to as the gods' food. The Aztecs believed that wisdom and power came from eating the fruit of the cacao tree, and that it had nourishing, fortifying and aphrodisiac qualities. Interesting too is the fact that cocoa beans were used as currency.
Chocolate has evolved throughout history from a bitter drink to its current forms today, creating a multi-billion dollar industry with plenty of controversy surrounding its "dark side". History also tells us that at the end of the fourteenth century, Columbus was the first to bring back cocoa beans from the New World to Europe and he presented them to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, yet their potential was overlooked. It was Hernando Cortez who brought cocoa beans to Spain in the fifteenth century and saw their value. We can also credit Cortez and the Spanish for being the first to blend the bitter drink with sugar and other ingredients, moving us toward the mixture that we enjoy today. However, it was the French who were the first to package chocolate as a gift, when in 1643, the Spanish Princess Maria Theresa was betrothed to Louis XIV of France. She gave her fiancé an engagement gift of chocolate, packaged in an elegantly ornate chest.
Christmas is a time for giving and chocolate is a centerpiece each holiday season. So if you're like most holiday shoppers, who frantically need ideas for Christmas presents or need to buy “last minute” Christmas gifts, don't forget about chocolate. Why not “gift it” this Christmas? When you give a gift of chocolate, you’re not just giving a piece of candy, but a piece of history –– if it is good enough for kings, queens and other royalty, it’s good enough for all, especially those you love. With Christmas right around the corner you may need more ideas for giving chocolate gifts –– try these to make the 2009 holiday season the sweetest, most luscious to date.
1. For a Christmas party or dinner.
2. A corporate gift for a customer or business associate.
3. Your boss or employee whom you don’t know very well.
4. A teacher or other school official.
5. Your neighbor.
6. Your friendly Postal Service worker.
7. Your picky, unpredictable in-laws.
8. A distant relative, figuratively or literally.
9. That person who "has everything" — we all know a few of those.
10. A Christmas treat for you and your family. Just don't eat the whole box by yourself.
You don’t have to wrap a candy kiss or a Hershey bar in a bow; you can buy ready-made and beautifully packaged chocolate (gourmet and more) in a holiday chocolate gift basket and you don't have to leave your home to shop. The Internet offers a global marketplace when it comes to online Christmas shopping; just make sure you select a safe and convenient site that offers enticing Christmas gift ideas as well as a holiday gift guide so you can be confident that you find that perfect chocolate gift for all on your gift list, making it a very special Christmas.