Roundabout: Life is Sweet
I just made my first batch of Christmas cookies last night to give away as gifts. Cookies and I go way back; not the insipid, store-bought ones, but those homemade with love and ingredients I can identify. I thank my grandma and my mom for instilling me with this cookie love. Grandma would always have freshly baked cookies in her cookie jars. Any time I went to my grandparent’s house (often, since they lived a short bike ride away), she would ask me – with a gleam in her eye, as if she knew it was mischief to ask – would I like a cookie? I don’t think I ever turned her down. Grandma’s cookies were old-fashioned: molasses, hermit bars, oatmeal and sugar cookies filled with a mixture of walnuts and raisins. I loved them. Grandma had grown up on a farm, at a time when baking was a daily chore. She confessed to me once that as a girl she preferred helping her father in the fields and the barn, rather than staying in the house with her mother. She usually got away with it, because her younger, more girly sister was happy to be the domestic one, and her father, with no sons, gladly welcomed her participation. The old bean pots that served as her cookie jars now sit on my kitchen counter, and are among my most prized possessions, along with her recipes.
My mom baked cookies too, I suspect to please my dad, who grew up on Grandma’s cookies. Mom’s light touch made the recipe on the back of the chocolate chip bag her own. She also made crackly ginger cookies, chewy chocolate cookies rolled in powdered sugar and tender, shortbread-like peanut butter cookies. At Christmastime she made spritz cookies in an endless array of shapes and colors and dozens of cut-out sugar cookies which she would give to my sister and brother and I to decorate with bowls of frosting in pink, white, blue and green. We were allowed to eat our mishaps with no words about ‘spoiling our dinner,’ and happily competed with each other in producing the prettiest ones. My own kids, now in their 20s, still look forward to this family tradition.
Mom piled her nicest platter with several different kinds on Christmas eve, when friends and family came over after church. We were allowed to set aside our favorites for Santa’s plate. I remember, when she finally confessed the Truth about Santa Claus, wondering who it was, then, that ate the cookies? “Oh – that’s your father,” she said.
As I sat down last night to go through my recipes, I was feeling sad about Nelson Mandela’s death, until I switched on the TV and saw footage of a rainy South Africa and thousands of people, joyously celebrating the life of this great man. Yes – we have joy and reasons to celebrate, all of us, even when the rain falls. To dance and sing, to be transported by love, faith and hope, and to be inspired by the good in the world – that is what God wants for us. It is the essence of Christmas, and sweeter than the most delightfully iced sugar cookie.