There are many, many reasons to celebrate Christmas. Jesus is the Reason for the Season is a popular refrain and I like how that encapsulates a religious meaning for Christians in the story of Joseph and Mary desperate for a place to give birth to Jesus. Christmas is a cornerstone of faith for 1/3 of the world’s populace, give or take a few. If Jesus is the main person in your religion, having a birthday party for him seems solid to me.
The old standard songs have some pretty great holiday justifications; getting home for Christmas even if it’s only your dreams, asking Santa for nothing but the company of a loved one, laughing at the mean old Grinch. Some are funny out of context, and laughing is a good reason to celebrate. It can be meteorological (Let it Snow!), audiological (sleighbells ring, can you listen?), psychological (Do You Hear what I Hear?), pathological (baby, it’s cold outside and you seem like a suave creep), even zoological (STOP with the turtle doves. She’s just not that into you and you need to walk away).
For others, Christmas time is about gifts. The act of giving, receiving, surprise, generosity, ingenuity…all good reasons to celebrate.
For me, Christmas is about sugar cookies. It’s my mom and dad’s main holiday tradition. There is no Christmas without sugar cookies. More specifically, there is no Christmas without everyone getting together and frosting them. For our mixed bunch (believers and non-believers alike) sugar cookie time is the essence of the church we go to to find our Christmas meaning. It’s our ancestry (we are many things, ALL of them cookie-centric cultures at the holidays). It’s also our culinary history. In her iconic “Cooky Book” Betty Crocker gives two versions of sugar cookies: Mary and Ethel. We bake the Ethel version. We have more ideology in common with Muslims fasting for Ramadan than we do with “Mary” recipe sugar cookie bakers. We take the Ethel recipe very seriously.
Cookie decorating is our artistic release. In years past Dad has given his cookie men plaid pants, mom has given her cookie ladies curly hair, Robin made an Elmo cookie, I turned a tree-shaped cookie into a KC Chiefs arrow.
We did our cookies later than usual this year, December 23rd. Robin and her family were there, I was there with Baby and Mac came from work to my parent’s house an hour later. This year saw several singular creations. The Dude experimented with Pollack-esque sprinkles while his dad made a cookie man wearing an ugly Christmas sweater vest of M&Ms. I swirled two runny frostings in a cool pattern I saw in some magazine named ‘Taste for People Classier Than You.” Robin even removed the head of one sugar cookie man and stuck it up the backend with some frosting. She then gave the head an orange combover and we celebrated eating one of this year’s brand name head-in-ass presidential candidates.
We listened to Christmas CDs, decided “Is it a Red Hot or is it a red M&M?” is a good game for people you don’t like very much, fed the baby a few cereal puffs. I fondly remembered when dad ate so many cookies we required a quadruple batch to be stocked up for the Christmas season. I especially remembered trying to sneak dough while they were in the fridge overnight and then attempting to cover the telltale spoon divots. I thought about the countless sugar cookie people that have paraded across our plates.
Sugar cookies are white. They are frosted with white, light green, or light pink frosting. The Imes family does not DO loud colors, colored gel, anything piped. Mom makes the cookies and frosting from scratch and everyone sits around one table for the games to begin. You get three frostings, a knife, and maybe a toothpick for detail work. You may have sprinkles or candies but you may NOT have these:
as Robin dumped an entire jar on the floor in our old house in 1989 and we were still pulling them out of kitchen baseboards when my parents moved 11 years later. This is true.
But this year, this year was different. The set-up was the same, the obnoxious jokes were hilarious, the contest to see who has the best cookie was highly competitive, mom fussed to get the curly hair just right, people surreptitiously ate their “mistakes.” It was the clone of Christmases past in all the best ways. As I watched everyone reaching for the green frosting and asking where the mini-chips went I absorbed the scene. I mean I really saw us. Then I knew: if everybody makes the cookies, everybody frosts the cookies, everybody eats the cookies, then these cookies are the Christmas tradition that define our family. One batch, one family. It’s the thing we can’t buy, won’t outsource and wouldn’t ever trade.
That’s when it hit me. In the most important way imaginable my sugar cookie family has changed. There is a new cookie on the table. Expansion was required for the familial rite of passage. So in 2015, for the first time ever, the ritual was amended. I made a batch of chocolate frosting.
One batch, one family.