The great Christmas Cookie Bakeoff got underway Sunday. Though a mere shadow of its former self, it’s a massive undertaking — my holiday gift to family and friends, a little something sweet with which to end the year.
The cookies are a gift passed down from my mother and grandmother, who together baked thousands of bite-sized holiday goodies over the years.
Ginger Snaps, Queenies, Black Walnut Crescents.
Waffle Cookies. Peanut Butter Criss-Crosses. Jolly Jellies.
Sugar Cookies, decorated with sprinkles, cinnamon and dragees.
Almond-scented Pressed Swedish Cookies each with a bit of maraschino cherry in the middle.
Big groaning countertops piled high with metal tins full of sugar, spice and everything nice.
Everyone they knew – friends, relatives, the mailman, hairdresser, people they saw throughout the year — got towering plates of sugary goodness.
My sister and I were quality control. Sometimes we even got to help chop the nuts, roll and cut the sugar cookies.
Mom and Dad always made Christmas magical, and the smell and taste of those cookies is integral to the season. I can’t have Christmas without them.
When I set out on my own, Mom and I did some batches of cookies together for a couple of years, and then slowly, I took on more and more by myself.
It wasn’t long before the postman brought me a gift — a box full of all the cookie cutters Mom had used for all those years. The angel and the Christmas tree, the reindeer and snowman, the candy cane and heart-shaped ones.
There are a ton of them, many of them older than me. I know each one so well — even by touch alone — and I cried when I opened the box.
The cookie-making duties were officially mine.
I laugh now because Mom is always after me to let it go, scale it back, forget the cookies.
It’s true that I’m busy and stressed. And I have decreased the project quite a bit. But I can’t let it go. It personalizes the holiday and brings people joy. It’s a chance for Catherine and me to bond, an activity that forces us to walk away from the computer and dig back to simpler times.
Even now, there is a long discussion each Dec. 24 about which ones will be left for Santa.
Plus the cookies have a way of reflecting life, its challenges and opportunities.
Sometimes they are the sweetest, most perfect little bites.
Sometimes they get burned.
Over the years, we’ve kept some cookie traditions alive and created our others.
If I mess up the recipe, I can simply dump the dough in the trash and start fresh.
Plus, they keep us flexible.
It wasn’t long after I finally mastered the Black Walnut Crescents — Dad’s favorite kind of cookie — that we learned Catherine is allergic to nuts. It was hard to leave some of the old favorites behind, but we found new recipes to test and embrace.
Last year, we discovered Catherine can’t have eggs, either, and so we reinvented the cookie list again, exploring vegan recipes that we found taste just as good.
As in life, we amend the cookie project according to our whims and the opportunities foisted on us.
Into each life a little confectioners’ sugar should fall. I hope there’s a big dusting for each of you.