The Joy Of Christmas Cookies
Wednesday - December 24, 2008
If there is no joyous way to give a festive gift, give love away. - Anonymous
This year my friend and I decided to bake cookies. It was a reaction partly to the flailing economy and partly to the excesses of the season, which we’ve been complaining about for years. But it was something else, too, something deeper and maybe more primal. This year, like millions of Americans, we needed a little comfort. And cookies are the ultimate comfort food, sweet treats for sour times. Nothing says love like a home filled with the aroma of sugar and spice and everything nice.
This was actually our second attempt at a scaled-back Christmas. The first was years ago when we were young and (in retrospect) foolish. It was The Great Brownie Fiasco. Same basic idea, we could save money and give our friends something made by our own hands instead of impersonal, store-bought, fancy-pants presents. We had the best of intentions - and no clue how to do it right.
We thought we knew. We went all Martha Stewart. After all, we didn’t want plain, old brownies. We wanted rich, lavish, designer brownies.
So we went out and bought the best ingredients, including lots and lots of imported chocolate. We had never even tasted this kind of chocolate before, but it cost a fortune, so we knew it had to be the best.
We found fancy boxes and fancier ribbon - you know, the glittery, pricey kind with the wired edges.
And of course we couldn’t pack each box with just a few precious morsels. The concept of “less is more” didn’t enter our minds - after all, these were our gifts and we wanted to impress! So we baked and baked all day and ended up with an overabun-dance of brownies - enough to make all our friends fat and to keep diabetes clinics in business for years to come. Our too-rich, time-consuming, over-wrapped, expensive brownies left us exhausted and broke. So much for simplifying Christmas. We never tried it again.
This time we were not out to impress. Instead of Martha Stewart, we channeled Rachael Ray. We went for the heart, not the dazzle. (Well, OK, maybe we threw in a little dazzle.)
Every year as Christmas approaches our family talks a lot about presents: Who’s on our list, how much do we spend, what do we buy?
This time around, the conversations in our home and countless others around the country were different. Instead of choosing between gift cards and sweaters, we were asking, “Who’s hurting this year? Can we afford Christmas as usual? Can they? If we buy them a gift will they feel obligated to reciprocate? Probably, so let’s just get something for the kids.”
It’s bad news for retailers. We feel their pain, especially if we know people who are or might soon be out of work because we’re consuming less. But, ultimately, our penny-pinching and soul-searching might actually save the spirit of Christmas by reminding us what it’s supposed to be about.
This scary economy is giving people an opportunity to jump off the merry-go-round of materialistic excess. We haven’t stopped shopping completely - no way! - but many of us are selecting gifts more prudently. We’re looking for ways to express our love without maxing out the credit cards. We are thinking twice about what we value in life.
My friend and I have busy, hectic lives, but we cleared the calendar for a day to bake. For a few wonderful hours my home smelled like chocolate and peanut butter and gingerbread. The kids pitched in and helped pipe on the icing and pack the goodies into pretty - and sensible - little bags. We made cookies. And while we were at it we reaffirmed a simple truth: Time spent with friends and loved ones is the best gift of all.
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