Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Traditions of Christmas, Gone Awry

Be warned. This is not another holly-jolly-Christmas-is-a-most-wonderful-feeling kind of message. It contains details and descriptions which may taint your view on life, Christmas, baking and other things. You have been warned. You may wish to exit this blog site immediately and not look back.

Okay. Are you still reading? It's still not too late to turn back. Do it now!!

The Grinch is Back. He arrived at about 8:45 this morning when I decided I would face the dreaded task of making 'The Wreath Cookies'.

Okay, this part of the story is still very readable. It has a traditional Christmas feel about it and it goes back to my childhood and a family that made a huge impact on ours ... (you can keep reading).

When I was about 11 or 12 years old, I started the tradition of making iced and decorated sugar cookies. A neighboring family of ours had many warm and fuzzy Christmas traditions. The whole family was involved in the preparations of Christmas. The baking, advent candles that were lit, on the 4 Sundays that preceded Christmas. The crafts, the excitement and joy, the wholesome 'Walton Christmas' and many family traditions was something to behold. In our house, Christmas was more of a bother when it came to the whole holly jolliness of the festivities. Not that we lacked for anything that was related to Christmas - it's just that we knew that it all involved work.

They made beautiful Christmas cookies with their cookie press - a kitchen tool that I had no idea existed until we knew this family. Mom appeased my desire to make fancy cookies like our neighbors and bought a cookie press. And I baked. Mom helped me out in those early years. And the huge task of making the wreath cookies that some how became synonymous with my name and Christmas was a much easier task with the 2 of us. First, you make the cookie dough. Next, you load it into the cookie press and make your cookies. Then, you ice and decorate them. The green icing sugar icing was a must and we soon discovered that a red Tic Tac, severed in 2 had the right look of a bow on the wreath and the cinnamon flavor enhanced the 100% sugarness of these cookies. Mom helped me through the laborious task (probably to get the mess out of the kitchen faster), and so began the tradition of the wreath cookies.

Mom was probably relieved that I moved out before I was 18. No more wreath cookies in her kitchen! But the tradition continued. I have a picture of my oldest son helping me decorate cookies. In later years, I enlisted a friend and we doubled the batch so we could both keep a batch after our efforts and it didn't even feel like work when the 2 of us did it. Out of the 36 years between the age of 12 and present date, I can only recall one Christmas when I didn't make those cookies (I was in between houses at the time).

My oldest son had a lot of upheaval in his life. I was young and inexperienced as a mom, we endured a lot of change and stressful times during his young years. But one thing was a constant. The Christmas wreath cookies. And it is the one thing that he still asks of me at Christmas. The only thing he asks for.

Okay, now the story I had planned to tell when I started writing this feels pathetic and small. But this is the twist to the cookie-making story for Christmas, 2008.

I have followed my whims this Christmas and not pushed myself to do anything that I didn't feel like doing this year. Somehow, baking slipped to the bottom of the list. And then I decided to cross it off all together. I give 90% of my baking away, my family nibbles on .25% of the remainder and it is my duty to consume the remaining 9.75% myself. It's a tough job, but some one has got to do it. Thus, my decision not to bake this year.

Then came the inevitable request. A Christmas supper invitation over to my oldest son and girlfriend's house. I asked if I could do or bring anything. From the turkey itself, to any and all of the vegetables or a few salads. I was in. And what was I asked to bring? The Wreath Cookies.

I kept waiting. Surely if I waited long enough, turned on some Christmas tunes and got myself into the spirit, I could make these cookies without knocking some years off my life. Today is 2 days before C-day ... and it's not happening. No amount of lack of pressure was making it easier (in fact, it is probably just that, that made it so hard).

Today was the day. I could do it. One, half batch of these tedious Christmas cookies. I can do this. Yes I can.

#1 - The batter. For some reason, it was rock hard and unworkable. I added some extra egg and it seemed to pull the batter together, but it was still pretty hard to work with.

#2 - I decided to go ahead and load the cookie press with this hard, unworkable dough anyway. I'd make it work. I'd done it before, I'd do it again.

#3 - By cookie #7, I was ready to throw in the towel. It took every muscle and every kitchen devise that I had, to give me the traction to get some of this dough forced out of that tiny little hole and make the wreaths.

#4 - I discovered if I held the cookie press on the counter and used that as leverage, I could make my wreaths. It was a full body work out, but I had almost filled 2 cookie sheets. 29 cookies to be exact.

#5 - The cookie press broke. No possible way to make any more cookies. In fact, there were little silver shavings off of a piece of the cookie press, on the counter. I used the last of the dough I could force out, to pick up all the shavings I could see and threw everything out. The cookie press, the dough in the press (I couldn't even unscrew the ends to salvage the dough or cookie press attachment or anything) and the smidgen of dough that was left in the bowl. It all went into the garbage.

#6 - All I could do was bake and ice what I had. I couldn't afford to break or burn any. Thankfully, none burnt ... though I did break 2.

#7 - How much icing does one make for 29 wreath cookies? 1/4 of a batch? Sounded good.

#8 - I was icing my 3rd cookie when my 2 yr old of the day arrived. His grandma couldn't figure out why he smelled in the car and took home his snowsuit to wash, figuring that was it. I had other ideas as to why he smelled. As soon as she walked out (this is the part you want to turn away and never look back from), I checked his diaper. Not only was he dirty, but it had run up his back and I not only stuck my fingers in it, but got it under my fingernail. Oh! Gross beyond words.

#9 - I scrubbed like a surgeon before operating. I cleaned under my nails with hot, sudsy water. I rinsed, scrubbed and repeated the process. Finally, I was able to return to the cookies.

#10 - I ran out of icing. Drats! To make more icing for 5 cookies? Hardly worth it. But I couldn't afford not to. Light bulb moment!! I had store bought icing in my fridge. I could add green food coloring to that and call it good.

Well, short story long ... that is my tale. All the while, I was thinking "This is the end of a tradition". Each step of the way I was more convinced ''This is it!" "I'm never doing this again".

Then ... I started writing this story. It's a tradition. I may not enhance the glowing Christmas spirit of the family that set the bar for me, but it's coming. I find joy sprinkled among this season where you least expect it.

And next year, I'll turn on my Christmas music and sing my heart out as I attempt my baking once again. That is ... if I find a new cookie press before then.

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