Christmas Cookies, Advent Calendars, St. Nick and Chipped Ornaments by Kelly Sears

The pumpkins, platters, and roasters are put away, the final turkey sandwich has been eaten and we turn the corner to the decorated trees, spinning dreidels, shopping, gift wrapping, and a packed December schedule. But sprinkled among the have-to-dos are the traditional want-to-dos. Those “started-when-I-was-a-kid” holiday traditions that happen only once a year but are traditions we carry on with our own families.

kellyblog2I spent the majority of my early life living in a condominium. We met our neighbors at the mailboxes or in the garage with a passing hello, and many became friends. Every year, we would gift boxes of homemade Christmas cookies to these friends and others. Not just one kind, that wasn’t how it worked in our home. It was dozens of varieties and dozens and dozens of cookies. Cookie cutters, icing the colors of the rainbow, cookie tins, wax paper and huge Tupperware containers littered the kitchen. Mom would make hot chocolate and put on a pot of chili and around that small kitchen table we would fill cookie tins until the lid would barely fit. My dad would burst into the chaos, snatch a cookie (usually the angel whose wing would always break off as you tried to ease her out of the cutter), slather it with frosting and make a quick exit. The best part was delivery. The cookies never tasted as good as the look on the gifted recipient’s face when they opened the tin; pure joy. Baking is for sharing. A recipe makes enough for you and for others. Pack lots of tins.

kellyblog3One year, when my sister’s kids were toddlers, I went to a charity auction and bid on a quilted advent calendar. It had twenty-four sewn little pockets to fill and so it began. Each year, I would fill the pockets with candy or notes, little hot chocolate packets, shoe laces, Christmas pencils, and snowflake socks. Today my niece is 15, my nephew 14. Around the middle of November they start hinting as to the status of this year’s calendar; “you’re doing it again, right?” These days, the gifts are Starbucks cards, hockey tape, and giant marshmallows. But there are still notes, candies and little hot chocolate packets. Just about every day they text me and let me know what was in today’s pocket. They are excited by a candy cane; my heart is bursting that they chose to reach out. There are 24 days before Christmas each December; reach out and just see what you get back.

In the German tradition, children leave their wooden shoes outside on December 5th. If they were good, in the morning they would find them filled with fruits, nuts, a smattering of candy and a bread-man made of sweet dough. Every year my sister and I would leave our shoes outside the door in the hallway and forget about them. Late in the night there would be a loud pounding on the door and a jingle of bells and we would run trying to catch a glimpse of St. Nick as he darted off. As I got older, I got faster. As mentioned, we lived in a condominium. I got to our front door just as the stairwell door was closing. I ran to the door as fast as I could, looked up and looked down the staircase. I saw him, I saw St. Nick! And then it hit me, I didn’t want to know St. Nick. I didn’t want to know that it was really the neighbor from upstairs who had been pounding on our door for the last ten years. He was older now too and couldn’t make it up the stairs as fast anymore to escape his identity being unveiled. My sister was right behind me but missed the viewing. “Did you see him, did you see him?” Nope, I missed him, I said. Sometimes it’s better to believe than to know.

kellyblog1When I got married, one of my wedding gifts was a box of ornaments from our family tree. Some I had made throughout the years, some representing vacations or events, some just favorites. In amongst the old was a new bride and a groom ornament. The bride and groom hung proudly on our first tree front and center that year. Over the next couple of years, our marriage hit some speed bumps. We decorated the tree, it fell over and some of the ornaments broke. The bride and groom got chipped. She lost an arm, he had a cracked neck. We could have scooped up those ornaments in the dust pan and tossed them in the trash but we chose to wrap them in tissue and try to bring them out again the next year. Twenty-eight years later, the bride and groom are still on the tree, one armed and cracked neck. Life is fragile, handle with care.

Whatever your holiday traditions, keep them going. Presents are less important than being present. Pack lots of tins, reach out and just see what you get back, sometimes believing is better than knowing. Life is fragile, handle with care.

Happy Holidays!

My Mom’s Sugar Cookies
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Ingredients
  1. ½ cup butter
  2. ¾ cup sugar
  3. 1 egg
  4. 1½ teaspoons vanilla
  5. 1½ cups flour
  6. 1 teaspoon baking powder
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Cream together butter and sugar; beat in egg and vanilla. Add flour and baking powder.
  3. Chill dough for at least one hour or overnight. Roll onto a floured surface and cut out with cookie cutters.
  4. Place on parchment lined sheets and bake for 6-8 minutes.
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