Ah, the Christmas season. That special time of year when you gather the family around a kitchen island in a bright, immaculate kitchen. Little ones sit on stools, while the adults pore over cookbooks, or better yet, hand-written index cards from generations past. All it takes is a well-
raised eyebrow from dad to get his normally withdrawn teenager to part with his beloved phone for the evening. He grins sheepishly, and then starts to get out flour and cookie cutters. It’s Christmas baking night! Everything goes smoothly until someone accidentally knocks over the carton of eggs. Oh no! It’s a mess! Everyone looks at mom, unsure how to proceed. But she just shrugs, smiles, and grabs her trusty paper towel.
Here’s what I want to know — after the commercial for paper towel or pine-scented candles or good, ol’ fashioned sugar has ended (DID YOU THINK I WAS POSSIBLY DESCRIBING REAL LIFE?!), how long before the baby eats all of the frosting? How long until the teenager bails, or the kindergartener tries to use the food coloring to dye his hands blue? How many ingredients have to fall to the ground before the mom starts scream-crying and the dad ushers everyone to bed?
Oh by the way, today’s post is about JOY.
I love cooking, as you probably know. I do not love baking. Baking is exact, it is measuring and
remembering and technique. I know that I do not love baking, so I don’t bake often. I will occasionally throw together a crumble or cobbler with summer fruits, and I have recently created a decent (not great) whole wheat pie crust. The truth of it is, I don’t love baked goods, so I don’t care that much about creating them.
And yet, every December the something-th, I start collecting brightly-dyed sprinkles and cookie cutters and frosting bags and think, “this is my year.” I hype up “cookie making day” to the point where John asks for it repeatedly. Finally the day arrives…
and I hate everything.
Have you really looked at how long “cookie making day” is? If you are doing the classic sugar cookie cut out (which of course you are), you’re making dough, chilling dough, rolling dough, cutting dough (repeat rolling and cutting times five million), baking cookies, cooling cookies, making (or opening) frosting, frosting cookies, and decorating cookies.
(And if you are me, there’s also: spill sprinkles, drink wine, break the stupid snowman cookie that you keep trying to get out clean from the cookie cutter, make eye contact with your child while he puts the frosting knife in his mouth, drink more wine, burn yourself repeatedly.)
BUT! At the end of all of those sweat and tears, there’s success. Sweet, beautiful cookie…
…that at best looks like something a five year old made.
And you will tell everyone the five year old made it.
But you made it.
I know you made it.
Was it worth it? Worth your time? Your burned fingers? The mess in your kitchen? The fact that now you don’t have any wine in the house anymore?
Maybe your experience is different than mine. Maybe you’re the beautiful inspiration for a Christmas product commercial. I am not. I used to feel really bad about this. Won’t my children grow up with sweet memories of Christmas baking day with mom?
No, they won’t. They’ll grow up with sweet memories of mom hiding tiny plastic wise men, who spend December “searching” all over the house for the rest of the fisher price nativity set and baby Jesus. They’ll remember when I taught them how to cut tomatoes in half and salt them just a little bit for a tasty, fun treat (it’s squishy AND you get you use a knife!). We find our family joy in our own way, not in the way the commercials or movies display.
Joy, then, is not what you do, but how you do it.
No Christmas baking day for us. Everyone is more joyful that way. I am very fortunate to have a mother in law who can take flour and sugar and make perfect sugar cookies every time. She has a trick to decorating so her cookies don’t look like they were done by five year olds in the dark. As I write this, John and Ev are having a Christmas baking day at her house. This brings me joy. They are creating sweet memories and I don’t have to drink all of my wine. Win-win!
So do I make Christmas cookies at all? Yes! And here are my three favorites for this year, with “recipes” (there is really no baking involved, so it’s less “recipe” and more “just look at the picture, you’ll get it.”)
1. GINGERBREAD COOKIES
2. CHRISTMAS TWIX COOKIES
3. REINDEER RICE KRISPIES
Whatever you do with your family this season, do it with joy. If it isn’t bringing you joy, and you can reasonably pare it down, do so. Allow the memories you make to be pure and sweet. Take it from another mother — these are what you’ll hold onto.
“But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” -Luke 2:19