One of the best parts about Christmas is seeing it through the eyes of a child. If you don’t have any kids in your house, then you need to find some to share the season with you. Children really don’t care if the house is clean (and I do). They’d rather we spend time with them, doing things with them. Baking cookies together is a great way to start!
I think about that each year at this season when I walk down memory lane. My sisters and I spent one day each year baking cookies and, whenever possible, we nabbed nieces and nephews to participate. We baked hundreds of cookies – and gave a lot of them away.
You can do the same. Over the years, our mailman, school bus driver, Sunday school teachers, school teachers, neighbors, and friends have been the recipients of many of these cookies.
I have siblings and cousins who still get together – and each time I hear about it, I feel a tinge of jealousy, wishing I could be there.
Some of my siblings still get together to bake cookies.
Some of them now bake cookies with their own grandchildren. It’s a wonderful tradition!
That’s why I wrote this story quite a few years back. I had a conversation with a young mom who told me she didn’t bake her husband’s favorite cookies because she liked the ones she grew up with better. Even though he asked, she wanted to bake hers because she didn’t feel nostalgic about the ones that her husband liked. I was surprised when several other moms in the group expressed the same sentiment.
I wanted to say, “Bah humbug!” but I didn’t.
Instead, I wrote this article. It’s printed in my book Southside Glimmers. Except for the recipes I included in the story, here it is.
Pick up any magazine this time of year (or scroll through Pinterest), and you’ll find delectable recipes for Christmas cookies. They’re guaranteed to be the best ever, saving time and money. They’re promised to please any palate. If I attempt to try any of those recipes, my cookies don’t usually end up looking like the ones in the magazine (or the internet)!
Yet just looking at those photos gives me a hankering to get in the kitchen and begin mixing cookie dough. Sometimes recipes get stashed in the back of a recipe box and are forgotten. That’s because I’ve got plenty of my own from which to choose.
The memories I have of cookie baking include my sisters and me mixing up batch after batch of various recipes. Sometimes one of us would find a new one to try. Occasionally the new find would be a “keeper” and would be added to the yearly tradition.
My family tends to go with the practical; it needs to be tasty as well as dainty and pretty. So even though it’s Christmas, there’s always a batch of chocolate chip as well as thimble and peanut blossom cookies.
My sister Rachel likes to make multi-colored candy canes each year. Other favorites are Swedish Cream Wafers and Trilbys. Mama’s raisin filled cookies are the best, especially when pulled hastily from the deep freeze and eaten down in the cellar (yes, I still do!). I’ve found more than one sister snitching a cookie when she thought no one was around.
My sister Rachel likes to make multi-colored candy canes each year.
Cookie Cutter Christmas
Other favorites are Swedish Cream Wafers and Trilbys. Mama’s raisin filled cookies are the best, especially when pulled hastily from the deep freeze and eaten down in the cellar (yes, I still do!). I’ve found more than one sister snatching a cookie when she thought no one was around.
When we became adults on our own, the added fun of nieces and nephews brightened our days. One year my mother’s lane was closed from drifted snow.
My sister Alice and her kids talked the man of their house into driving them as close as they could get in his four-wheel drive pickup. Then they walked a quarter of a mile to Grandma’s house holding containers of mixed cookie dough in their mittened hands. They didn’t want to miss the party!
Recently Alice fired up her wood cook stove and made a batch of “Aunt Vernie’s Ginger cookies.” Aunt Vernie wasn’t even our aunt, but that’s what folks called her–and that’s how she’s remembered. Those cookies just don’t taste quite as good baked in a conventional oven; the only way Aunt Vernie baked them was in her wood stove.
On the other side of my kids’ family is another cookie tradition. Mom Slabach also made cookies; hers were sugar cookies that were rolled out and tinted with red and green. Her holly leaves had cinnamon tarts for berries. Mom’s set of three bells with a cinnamon tart for the clapper was a dainty, festive art piece of its own.
She was so particular with the making of those cookies that her kids were privileged only to “look and don’t touch” as she placed perfectly shaped cookies on the trays. As they grew older, they were allowed to be involved, placing the cinnamon tarts or silver balls for buttons and eyes on the gingerbread men.
Today, her daughters still enjoy making those cookies because they remember watching or helping when their mom made them.
It’s not the recipe that matters; it’s the nostalgia and memories that flow as the cookie dough is rolled and cut into shapes.
My husband’s grandmother had her own version of cookies, and recently an aunt made a batch of them for Dave for his birthday. While he didn’t exactly horde them, he didn’t encourage any of us to enjoy them, either! Those cookies didn’t mean to me what they did to him. I don’t have the memories of the woman or the cookies that made them special to him.
On the other hand, Dave doesn’t have an appreciation for my family’s endless baking of as many different kinds of cookies as we can produce in a day. When I have the rare opportunity to be home for that occasion, I’m a child again, with Christmas music playing in the background and snow falling gently outside.
I’m amazed sometimes at the women who think the cookies of their past are more important than the ones from their husband’s past! My kids have as much “Slabach” and “Hilty” in them as they do “Miller” and “Bender”. That’s why I believe in using recipes from both sides of the family.
I admit that I am partial to my own because it’s what brings back warm memories to me, but it’s not necessarily because the cookies from my side taste better than ones from his side.
Somehow we think our kids will automatically pick up that nostalgia, but it doesn’t work that way.
Nostalgia cannot be reproduced. It has to be experienced.
So when you’re thinking of experiencing Christmas again this year, don’t forget to heat up that oven and mix those cookies. Invest time in your family by working together to create your own memories in the present.
More importantly, don’t forget to share with your family the true meaning of Christmas.
It can’t be reproduced, but it can be experienced!
This year, when you’re feeling nostalgic and thinking of creating memories with your own family, bring in some pensive memories of your past and add a flair for your future.
Don’t forget to seek out your husband’s favorite recipes from his childhood as well. Help your kids realize who you are, and allow your family to develop an identity that is a blend of traditions from both sides of the family. If you’re an aunt or a grandmother, you can create special memories by inviting someone else’s kids to help you make cookies.
Oh, and while you’re at it, maybe you’d like to try a few new recipes of your own. Don’t feel obligated to keep them– but just in case your family cries for more, it might be worth clipping this column and putting it someplace where you can visit it again in the years ahead.
This column first appeared in a local community-interest newspaper in 2002. Later it was printed in the book Southside Glimmers.