“It’s true, Christmas can feel like a lot of work, particularly for mothers. But when you look back on all the Christmases in your life, you’ll find you’ve created family traditions and lasting memories. Those memories, good and bad, are really what help to keep a family together over the long haul.” Caroline Kennedy
“Memories are not the key to the past, but to the future.” Corrie Ten Boom
“Christmas is the day that holds time together.” Alexander Smith
My earliest memories of Christmas are magical, seen through the eyes of childhood wonder. My later memories were… less than wonderful.
Why? As I grew up the holidays became an ever-increasing contest of wills between my parents. It was not easy to separate in the 60s and Catholics did not divorce. So, my parent’s marriage was always on a sort of simmer…and the holidays turned up the heat.
I don’t think I’m alone. I think many face the holidays with mixed feelings, and some with feelings of sadness and hurt. Some are depressed, missing loved ones, or disappointed as their Christmas does not resemble the ideal pictures of this season as full of joy and love.
As you might expect, I was determined that my children would have the best of Christmases. I wanted to do things very differently. I wanted things to be like the early magic. I wanted my children to hold onto the joy of Christmas, to treasure it forever, and pass it on to their children, a bit of the best of my family and my husband’s wrapped in our own new traditions.
My family customs were largely old world Polish mixed with a little American tradition: decorating the tree Christmas Eve, sharing Oplatek wafers at our Christmas meal….done American style on Christmas Day with a turkey. We had an American wonderland under our tree and a Christmas village made of paper houses my sister and I bought for our mother at Woolworth’s, using all our allowance.
Our first Christmas, Doug’s mother gave me his childhood Christmas stocking. I created one for myself and added my name to it….and magically, little gifts wrapped in Santa paper filled them both (a new tradition) …and later, our son’s and daughter’s stockings as well. Some stocking gifts were simple, but some were always special…searched for the whole year through.
In true holiday fashion, we rode for miles to a tree farm and cut down our tree, searching for the perfect one…(ok, I may have overdone that element!)… singing carols on the way and drinking hot chocolate when we got home. My family star on the top, my mother’s ornaments and lights, and the papier-mache village underneath, every year the beauty of the tree grew as the kids got a new ornament to add to it.
We didn’t have elves to help with Christmas waiting…but we made paper chains and pulled one ring off each night, counting down the days.
The week before Christmas, in another new tradition, we started baking cookies. I searched Family Circle magazines and cookbooks for cookies that captured the holiday’s best. The most important ones were Danish Gingerbread Cookies…Santa Cookies. We would cut them out in Christmas shapes and frost them with a Citrus Buttercream colored in green and red, blue and yellow: churches and bells, holly and Christmas trees, reindeer…and SANTA! The cookies would start hard and then “mellow” becoming a bit crisp, but also tender from the frosting.
This has been the most enduring part of Christmas for me. Every year I spend a day creating cookies with each set of my grandchildren. Next week I will as well…and just like when their mom and dad were little, Santa will have cookies and milk before he fills stockings with small gifts wrapped in Santa paper.
Another and very distinctive part of making Christmas happy for me involved my work. The Salvation Army in Syracuse was in charge of the community Christmas distribution. We collected donations of food and toys and gave away Christmas dinners and Christmas presents the parents would select for their children. For 25 years, I worked to make Christmas real for thousands of families. It made me understand what Santa might feel like…and it was heart-filling. Impossible to feel sad when you make Christmas happen for someone else.
What I learned in working to create Christmas magic for these families and for my kids, and then my grandkids, is that embracing Christmas wonder and creating happiness for others is the best way to create joy for ourselves.
Christmas is never about what I have or get or didn’t always have as a child, but about what I give to others. And it’s not about the expensive gifts…but rather the “big” special gifts that often cost little, the thoughtful gifts that perfectly match the recipient’s wants or needs. Christmas is love and love is about treasuring someone’s heart and giving your heart to them.
So this year to perhaps help you create some Christmas magic I am going to do something I have never done! Merry Christmas! Here is the recipe for the Eddy family Christmas/Santa cookies:
Eddy Family Danish Gingerbread Christmas Cookies
1 cup butter
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup corn syrup
2/3 cup honey
1 ½ Full teaspoon grated Lemon Zest (pat into the teaspoon)
1 teaspoon good vanilla
1 teaspoon ginger
½ teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
4 ½ cups sifted flour
Citrus Buttercream Frosting
Set Oven to 350. Cream butter and brown sugar. Add syrup, honey, lemon rind, vanilla, spices, salt and baking soda. Stir until well blended. Add enough flour to make a soft dough. Cut into large pieces, flatten into discs and chill until firm enough to roll. On lightly floured sheet roll dough ¼ to 1/8 inch thick. Cut out cookies and place on parchment lined cookie sheets. Bake about 8 minutes. Cookies should look brown but not dark. Cool cookies on baking sheets then transfer to cookie rack. Place cookie scraps back into refrigerator to reroll. Once baked cookies can hold this way for several days before frosting…keep in airtight container. After frosting cookies will soften.
Citrus Butter Cream
1 cup of salted butter
4 cups of icing sugar
1 tablespoons fine lemon zest (I use microplaner) or omit
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons cream
Cream together butter and 3 cups icing sugar with electric mixer. Add lemon juice (I admit to not measuring but use the remaining zest on lemon used in cookies and then juicing that lemon) and remaining sugar, thinning with cream to fairly thick icing. After frosting spread cookies on waxed paper on counter to “dry.” Frosting will dry/harden and you can put cookies into air tight container once dry. Cookies keep well…softening from the frosting. In our house, they never make it to New Year’s!