I love this time of year. Sure, it’s a simple statement, void of over-the-top adjectives and a spattering of holly jolly, but it’s true. My love for it has taken different shapes over the years as I’ve grown from a small child, eagerly anticipating what lies beneath the perfectly wrapped boxes beneath the tree, to a mom now busily wrapping those boxes with eager anticipation of the joy and excitement they will bring.
Of course, we all know there is so much more to this season than the giving and receiving of gifts. We live in a time where “Christmas Bucket Lists” are a thing, and we’re stuffing our schedules full of each and every activity in hopes that one of them will grant us that picturesque moment that our kids will fondly look back on for years to come. We drink hot cocoa on the Polar Express, ice skate at Crown Center, take a family photo by the tree in Union Station, drive around town searching for the best light displays, and every other Christmas themed diversion we can find to keep the festiveness of the season alive.
Everyone has that *thing* that officially kicks off the season for them and they proclaim it’s officially here. Time to break out the tinsel, start using those reindeer dishes, and do ALL THE THINGS. For some, it’s the plaza lighting ceremony, while others it’s simply getting the tree put up and decking the halls. For me, it’s always been about baking that first batch of Christmas cookies.
Growing up, we didn’t have a bucket list: we had Molasses Crinkles and Barbara Mandrell. In our house, baking cookies and listening to Christmas music was as synonymous as Elf on the Shelf and ugly sweater parties are today. We didn’t have the luxury of Pinterest or social media to scour in search of the most creative and unique goodies to attempt. We had the same handful of recipes that my Grandmother had made years before — the staples that were only baked once a year, in mass quantities (then frozen, of course!) for enjoying and sharing throughout the entire season. If we were lucky, we might uncover a forgotten bag in the back of the freezer the following summer and we’d get to savor that holiday greatness once again.
In anticipation of that first bake, I’ll dig to the back of the pantry to find what’s left of the molasses from the year before. Upon seeing the Brer Rabbit label, I’m sent right back to the kitchen at home where I helped my Mom bake these same cookies time and time again. Then come the Angle Crisps, the Snickerdoodles, and if I’m feeling extra ambitious, the Chocolate Crackles. Every ingredient and corresponding measurement are hastily scribbled on a flimsy recipe card that my mother had copied over from hers. Sometimes, just for nostalgia’s sake, I’ll break out the ones that have my late Grandmother’s handwritten notes on them. So many memories, some more distinct than others, are wrapped into those cookies.
Each roll of the dough and subsequent dip in some combination of cinnamon and sugar is accompanied by the music and lyrics of Christmas songs, both old and new. From the melodic instrument filled “Carol of the Bells” from Mannheim Steamroller to the gentle, breathy sound of Priscilla Ahn singing “Silent Night,” each moment wraps me up in the comfort and joy of the season. It’s a welcome reprieve from what often feels like a non-stop hustle and bustle leading up to December 25th. It’s a simple joy I revel in every year.
Now, I’m working on instilling that same sense of joy and nostalgia in my children. It can’t be forced, of course, but hopefully, with a little laughter and a few licks of the wooden spoon, they’ll get there, too. Don’t worry, you’ll still find us fighting the crowds at Union Station in hopes of that perfect family photo in front of the tree, watching Elf on repeat with a holiday beverage in hand, and reading A Charlie Brown Christmas for the 100th time. But if we’re friends, then you’ll probably also get a small package of cookies too, and now you’ll know why.