Close your eyes and remember December, the smell of cinnamon in your mother's or grandmother's kitchen and the warm scent of dough baking in the oven. Imagine opening the oven door and, with assistance, taking out the heated cookie sheet. Devour the cookies, small works of art, with your eyes: Fudge Brownies, Gingerbread, Nut Rolls, Painted Cookies, Sugar Cookies... With each bite, taste your childhood and family history. You can trace your blood and traditions not by DNA, genealogies and family heirlooms, but by recipes given from one generation to the next, like oral histories handed down in clans before recorded fact caught on.
Scholars once sniffed at "women's lore," but the notations of "1 dash nutmeg" and "1 cup chopped nuts," when handwritten on a yellowing page, are as important to memorize as the dates of the American Revolution. They are a tangible reminder of love, care and craft in any society, but particularly in America, where encouragement to eat bags of artificially sweetened store-bought Christmas sweets leave people sugar-craving, guilty, physically and emotionally empty Christmas cookies are the opposite of this trend. They represent home, family, comfort, joy, and tradition.
It's a miraculous event when generations gather around the stove to spend a day together, getting their hands dirty and sharing of themselves. It is miraculous because those memories are irreplaceable. It's miraculous because children get curious and ask, for example, "Why are the Christmas cookies German? What was Christmas like when you were my age? Did Santa Claus visit you?"
Mother, father, grandmother, and grandfather can share with children the family history and everyday moments in the past, such as, "Your grandmother made a mistake and measured one cup of walnuts when the recipe called for half a cup. But the cookies tasted better, so to this day we always use 1 cup of walnuts in the recipe." By reliving these rare glimpses of a life you may have forgotten, you honor and celebrate yourself as well as your family. Christmas cookies themselves transmit and record history and tradition.
In addition, Christmas cookies are a thread to Christmas past, not only our past, but long past. The word cookie came about thanks to Dutch settlers in North America during the 1700s to 1900s. Koek is Dutch for cake, so koekje, later cookie in English, means "little cake." Christmas cookies like German Springerle continue the custom of serving Christmas baked goods started by the Romans, Teutonic/Germanic tribes, and other pre-Christian civilizations. Christian religions sanctified these symbols of worship of the harvest gods by adding a "J" on the top to mark the breads as offerings to Jesus Christ. Ancient European peoples ate gingerbread at Winter Solstice feasts. When you bake gingerbread and Springerle, you're participating in a tradition that endures.
In that spirit, here is a recipe for successful cookie-making:
Start with 1 family, 1 kitchen, and a box of recipes. Add an uninterrupted period of time. Subtract phone calls, televisions, or any other distractions. For best results, add the Prayer Before Baking from CHRISTMAS COOKIES ARE FOR GIVING:
"God bless this mixture with the sweetest and tastiest ingredients: joy, faith, family, friendship, love, and health. Let the scent of this holiday offering rise to Heaven and make the angels sing, for the happiness of mankind is their feast. Let us taste our blessings with each bite as we share the company of our loved ones. Amen."
Sprinkle with laughter. Add amusing family stories with a lavish hand. Fold in 1 cup patience and understanding, blended with 1 gallon youthful enthusiasm and a pinch of baking know-how. Eat your mistakes with joy. Bake lovingly and well. Enjoy warm, delicious, Christmas miracle cookie-baking memories for years to come!
Copyright Kristin Johnson.
Kristin Johnson is co-author of the "highly recommended" Midwest Book Review pick, Christmas Cookies Are For Giving: Stories, Recipes and Tips for Making Heartwarming Gifts (ISBN: 0-9723473-9-9). A downloadablemedia kit is available at our Web site, www.christmascookiesareforgiving.com, or e-mail the publisher (firstname.lastname@example.org) to receive a printed media kit and sample copy of the book. More articles available at http://www.bakingchristmascookies.com.