Thursday, December 22, 2005

Christmas Tradition

Beware the reindeer army!
The quest for a perfect Christmas takes people all sorts of places but what I've found is that you can abandon the perfect for the fun. Over the years every family builds holiday traditions that become an integral part of Christmas. My wife hand makes ornaments for all her friends and family because this is something she did with her Mother for years and years. My family has their own traditions that range from foolish to festive. All of them help build the holidays into the fun and enjoyable occasion that it should be. These traditions are the backbone of the holidays and just like the backbone, they too can be bent.

One of my favourites (and my Mother's too) is the Christmas baking. Every year sees trays of cookies distributed to friends and family as our Christmas greeting. Not only are they tastier than cards, but they are way easier to chew if we get them right. We have our key items that we make every year because they are considered required materials for certain people, but every year we tweak it a little. Some recipes get retired and we always try to make at least two new ones each year.

The day starts with the battle plan for our day. This is created from a list of what we need to accomplish in the day. Cookie recipes are collected from books and magazine clippings that are older than I am. Recipes lurk in the dark corners of books that don't get opened but once a year. Handwritten and faded, they contain samples of previous years' cookies in the form of ingredients that have been absorbed in the frenzy of preparation. I have a theory that if you add water to the recipes you could actually bake and eat them, resulting in a tasty treat.

Over the years we have used better ovens and the addition of a Kitchenaid mixer has made the job easier, but it's still like traveling through time. It's the one day of the year when I abandon my family and get to be a kids again. Sure over the years I have gone from being a liability to being a help. When I was little my Mother patiently led me through the process. Showing me how to separate eggs and mix dough, while I gorged myself on undefended ingredients. I'd watch her assemble some of the pickier cookies with awe, as every time I touched one it would crumble back into the mix, taunting me. Her investment has paid off as now she isn't baking the cookies on her own with me underfoot. Now we are a team that can grind out a pretty shocking amount of baking in a one day explosion of baking. One by one the recipes get crossed off the list, falling like dominos.

Sure the process always has its obstacles. Forgotten ingredients cause side trips that devour precious time. Frantic bakers will occasionally lose track of an item and it will remain on the heat too long or get lost in the shuffle, only to be made a second time then found again. Coffee will be forgotten and there will be pauses to brew more. The baking itself encounters certain peril when Dad or other interlopers sneak in for a treat, although we've devised a cunning system of sending samples to the adjacent room where my father and any other present are lurking with bated breath. The baking itself has even encountered rodent peril when it is left outside to cool down, with tooth marks on the containers too small to be my father's attempts at cookie snatching.

With the entire process typically lubricated with large amounts of irish cream and scrabble games while we wait for the oven to allow us to continue, the whole day is pretty crazy. At the end of the 16 hour festival of munchies we are always tired, but impressed with our accomplishments. Whatever is done is done and whatever didn't make it gets left for another year's efforts, although Mom is usually sneaking another few in across other days' efforts. The years will come and go, but we will make our cookies as long as we can. While we struggle to get it all done and strive to remember the cookies that mean the most to certain people the whole process is never abandoned and always enjoyed. The fun we have and the sense of accomplishment that comes with a job well done are always present. The funniest part is that while we do it all and focus on the cookies, the whole thing has little to do with the baking. For one fun filled day it is all about being with family and doing something together that matters to many others who will enjoy their cookies and curse our efforts when the new year brings about the new waistline.

Soon my kids will be getting old enough to get underfoot and steal ingredients. My Mother and I will welcome them into the kitchen and tolerate their lack of knowledge. We will feed them cherries and cookie dough and teach them how to make the cookies we have made for years. We will teach them to measure ingredients, roll out dough, cut cookies and grease sheet pans. They will learn the skills needed to crank out their own cookies if they choose to do so and somewhere in the cookie sheets and the dirty bowls and spoons we will find love and memories that will remain long after the cookie and holiday pounds have gone.

What things do you do to keep the holidays fun?


Blogger happyandblue2 said...

Cookie making is a part of our Christmas tradition too. Must be a Canadian guy thing.
I like to go to the mall and block people who are shopping from getting down the aisles. It's fun and free..

11:08:00 AM  
Blogger TheatreChick73 said...

Cookies are a major stress for my mother. She still hasn't made her batches yet. But I will be sure to help as I always try to do.

Though sometimes I think I just get underfoot. At my age! That's embarassing.

To keep the holidays fun I sing whenever possible. I always have music around and encourage others to sing along as well. I don't care if you think you can't sing....everyone can this time of year :)

1:27:00 PM  
Blogger Martini said...

Heh heh. You said Lubricated. Heh.

Long live Beavis & Butthead.

Sorry about that. I don't know what came over me.

3:50:00 PM  
Blogger Minerva said...

Oh Pete -
That was gorgeous...and so beautifully written - it really took me into a wonderful place of warmth, and fogged windows and heat...

Thank you for that...


4:45:00 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I don't know if your Mom reads your blog, but if not, you should print that out for her. It was a very good post and I bet she'd be really happy to know everything you said about the cookie making.

My Mom and I used to do all the holiday stuff together. Maybe that's why I'm such a Scrooge now. She goes down to Florida each year and I don't see her for Christmas any more. Before that I was married and moved too far away. There is no more holiday ornament sewing (we used to make them each year, mainly out of felt and embroidered) and when I bake cookies or bread I do it alone. We used to make all kinds of different ones too. We have those favourite recipes which we could just add water too, also.

I didn't think I missed any of that really, till I read your post. I do miss it. Gee, thanks Pete! :D Next year I'll restart our traditions. I'm not doing too bad this year. I made countless dozens (I lost track after 12 dozen) ice box cookies, with peanuts, red and green candied cherries and I added my own touch of cinnamon, ginger and vanilla. I'm sewing aprons, not ornaments but still sewing. :)

Seasons Greetings, enjoy the fruits of your labour over a hot stove. :) Yo Ho Ho!

8:46:00 AM  
Blogger sands of time said...

Have a happy christmas

9:19:00 AM  
Blogger Mark Leslie said...

What a wonderful Christmas memory (and plan for continued memories and traditions) - thanks for sharing.

9:57:00 AM  
Blogger happyandblue2 said...

Wishing you and your family a very Merry Christmas..

3:01:00 PM  
Blogger glomgold said...

Lot of eating, games, & general stupidity.

8:10:00 PM  

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