Tag Archive | Christmas cookies

The Best Family Tradition of All – Baking Christmas Cookies!

Christmas Cookies

Some of the traditional Christmas cookies Mim and I bake every year. The Norwegian cookies are the golden ones on the right.

For the month of December, Joan Chittister has been focusing on the role of traditions in our lives in her pamphlet, The Monastic Way. On December 11 she said:

Traditions are meant to develop us emotionally, one layer of understanding at a time. It is our traditions – the Easter eggs, the Christmas trees – that lead us back to the very centers of life. They shape us spiritually and form us socially. They are the magnets that draw us to the center of our souls.

Mom-Dad on stumpChittister left out the best tradition of all from her examples – Christmas cookies! My mom baked at least a dozen different kinds of Christmas cookies every December. One reason for so many cookies is that my parents were in a mixed marriage – my mom was Norwegian and my dad was German – so my mom felt obligated to bake both Norwegian and German cookies. Plus, she always liked to try out new recipes. I loved all the Norwegian cookies. The German cookies – not so much. My mom faithfully made the same Korth recipe for peppernuts every year, and every year they turned out the same – as hard as a rock. We let them age for at least a month, because no one ate them (except my dad dunked a few in his coffee), and then we threw the rest of them out for the birds.

Some of my fondest Christmas memories are spending a couple evenings every December decorating both light and dark cookie cutouts (sugar cookies and gingerbread cookies). My mom frosted each cookie and Danny and I carefully decorated them with every color of sugar my mom could find – red, green, yellow, blue, purple, pink, and multicolor nonpareils. We also used red-hot candies, and little silver and gold balls. Sometimes we would even cut up red and green gum drops to make leaves and berries to decorate wreathes. Our cookies were almost too beautiful to eat, although that never stopped us.

By Christmas we had stacks of cookie tins filled with hundreds of cookies. Even though we ate heartily, there’s no way we would ever eat that many cookies. But my mom had a better idea anyway. Just before Christmas she boxed up a selection of cookies for a lot of the older people in Cambridge who didn’t bake their own Christmas cookies, and we made a delivery run a day or two before Christmas.

When I was in my twenties and living with Mim in Chicago, baking Christmas cookies together was one of the first traditions we established. We had to negotiate on whose recipes to use. Over the years we’ve worked it out. We use her mom’s recipe for Krumkake and my mom’s recipe for Berliner Kranzer. We carried over the tradition of making lots of different kinds of cookies – more than we could possibly eat – and solved that problem by hosting the coffee hour after church the Sunday closest to Christmas. Our Lutheran church in Chicago had lots of retired Swedes as members, and Norwegian cookies were close enough to Swedish to bring back pleasant memories on their taste buds.

Christmas Cookies at Resurrection

The cookies are arranged. The candles are lit. The postlude must be starting. Mim’s ready to pour coffee.

When we were in our forties we moved back to the farm in Cambridge. Soon afterwards, Mim’s mom had a stroke which left her paralyzed on one side. She came to live with us for the next five years. I can still picture her sitting at the dining room table in her wheelchair, rolling out Kringla, a doughnut-like soft Norwegian cookie, rolled by hand into a pencil-like shape and twisted to look like a pretzel. She also helped us decorate cookies. One day our youngest niece Emily joined us to work on decorating cookies together. What better activity to bring multiple generations together than decorating Christmas cookies!

From left to right - Marian frosting cookies, Emily decorating, and Selma and Megabyte supervising.

From right to left – Marian frosting cookies, Emily decorating, and Selma and Megabyte supervising.

Seven years ago, when we moved to our condo, my sister Nancy, who lived nearby, came over to spend a day baking Christmas cookies together. I think we baked about six different kinds in that one long day. By the end of the day we were exhausted, but we had something beautiful and delicious to show for our efforts. And it was fun working together, using the cookie-baking skills we had learned from our mother. The next year my sister passed away. Last year around Christmas time Mim and I went to see our niece Michelle, Nancy’s daughter. She served us Christmas cookies – just the like ones her mom used to make. The tradition continues.

Cindy, my brother’s daughter, is also carrying on the Christmas cookies tradition. Even though Cindy is gluten intolerant, she enlists her nieces to help her bake and decorate some of the most beautiful cookies I’ve ever seen.

Joan Chittister has it right –

Traditions are meant to develop us emotionally, one layer of understanding at a time. It is our traditions – the Easter eggs, the Christmas trees, [the Christmas cookies!] – that lead us back to the very centers of life. They shape us spiritually and form us socially. They are the magnets that draw us to the center of our souls.

Now I need to get back to baking cookies. We’re trying three new recipes this year, plus baking most of our family standards. I plan to bring a selection to my brother’s family. I guess I might pack up a few cookie tins for some friends, too. But I don’t think I have to worry about the cookies not getting eaten. Our 93-year-olds like our Christmas cookies just as much as our youngest nieces and nephews, and the next generation beyond them…

Emily w decorated Xmas cookies

 

Bucket List for Advent

Claudia

Claudia

The best thing about Facebook is that it has provided a means to reconnect with several people from my past. One of those connections is Claudia, an old friend from my freshman year in college. I haven’t seen her in almost 50 years. Our only communication had been Christmas cards, until we somehow found each other on Facebook – I don’t remember how it happened. Now we enjoy reading, commenting on, and often sharing each other’s posts at least weekly, sometimes even daily.

Yesterday Claudia shared an idea from her pastor’s sermon – to have a “Bucket List” of things to complete before Christmas. “The actions on this list reflect and share the true reason for the season.” He provided eleven items to help us get started on our own bucket lists for Advent. Here’s his list, along with my comments.

  1. Help a total stranger. I don’t know who this will be, but I’m on the lookout for an opportunity.
  2. Do something special for a neighbor. Maybe I’ll take our new dog Floey to visit dog-loving neighbors.

    Floey waiting for me to finish writing this blog post so we can go for another walk.

    Floey waiting for me to finish writing this blog post so we can go for a walk and see neighbors.

  3. Extend grace to a family member (let them off the hook). That’s easy. My brother Danny and I don’t see eye-to-eye on much of anything, but we still love each other. I think I’ll bring him a tin filled with a variety of the Christmas cookies that Mim and I bake every year using Mom’s recipes. I know that will bring back lots of happy Christmas memories for him.
  4. red kettleDon’t miss a red kettle. That’s a little harder for me. I haven’t given anything to the Salvation Army in years because of their strong anti-gay position. But, I know they help a lot of people. I guess no organization is perfect, and I want to be supportive of all the good they do. I’ll try to keep a little cash in my coat pocket so I can drop something into every red kettle I pass over the next four weeks.
  5. Give of your time to listen to someone’s story. That’s another easy one for me. At a minimum, I can ask each of our 93-year-olds to tell me about their childhood Christmases. That will certainly lead to some good reminiscing, and I’ll learn more about the good old days, and more about the significant memories of each person. And, the 93-year-olds will have the opportunity to relive those memories as they tell their stories.
    2014 Birthday - Ann w Marty 2
  6. Write a note expressing your thanks to someone who has blessed you. I’ll have to think about this one a little. I have been blessed by many people. Maybe I’ll have to write several notes.
  7. Double your tip. This should be fun! Even when the servers are grouchy, maybe a generous tip will make them feel better.
  8. Take a cup of coffee/cocoa to someone out in the cold. I might cross this one off my list. I don’t typically see people working out in the cold. Instead I might heat up a glass of spiced red wine for Mim to help her relax at the end of an extra busy day.
  9. Start a “chain of blessing” by paying the bill of the person behind you (drive through, checkout, etc.) Rather than doing this, I might invite someone who looks extra busy or hassled to cut in line ahead of me (if I’m at the end of the line) in a grocery or department store. I’ll be giving them the gift of a few minutes. Maybe they’ll do the same thing for someone else in another checkout line some day when they’re not quite so hassled.
    checkout line 2
  10. Give an anonymous gift of value to someone in need. Our church makes it really easy to do this. We can provide anonymous gifts to residents of the YWCA, and to families at the Domestic Abuse Intervention Services Center and the Road Home (a service to homeless individuals and families). Suggested gifts are listed on a bulletin board in church with a code name for each person. Mim and I can identify the gift we want to give and simply bring it to church.
  11. Donate your time to help someone else. This will be one of my favorites. I’ll play the piano for the women’s worship service in jail twice in December. We’ll include an extended time of singing Christmas Carols in these services. Nothing makes me feel the Christmas spirit more than hearing the inmates enthusiastically singing their favorite Christmas carols.

Claudia ended her pastor’s list with the suggestion to add your own list items. Here’s the first addition I made as I customized her pastor’s list into my own Bucket List for Advent.

Giving Tuesday Generosity

  1. Make a generous donation to a favorite charity on “Giving Tuesday.” Today is December 2, “Giving Tuesday,” the day that follows the sequence of Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday. Today Mim and I will make an extra donation to Casita Copan, “a community-based organization in Copan Ruinas, Honduras dedicated to providing a loving and supportive family environment to kids in need.” We found out about this organization a couple years ago from a friend of a friend. We sponsor a little six-year-old girl, Dulce Maria, with a monthly contribution. Today’s extra gift is to help the organization meet the needs of others they care for.

I think I’ll print out my Advent Bucket List and keep it handy so that I can check off items as I complete them. I may think of other things to add to the list, too, to be sure the Advent Season of waiting is filled with doing the things I choose to do. I don’t want Advent to be just a pre-Christmas rush, a time of being too busy to keep my true priorities in line.

Advent Week 1