Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Paring down the Pear Tree

You will no doubt read at least 10 articles on how to cut back this holiday season. You will receive tips and newsletters that tell you how to de-stress by letting things fall by the wayside because it’s just not worth the effort.
Well, this post is an attempt at just the opposite: to encourage you to go back along the wayside and pick some of those holiday projects back up. This has nothing to do with gifts. It has nothing to do with going to 28 different stores to find coordinating wrapping paper and ribbons. What it does hope to serve as a warning not to confuse a meaningless task with a meaningful tradition.
Our family has a Christmas cookie that we make once a year. It’s such a long and involved process, that you need a year in between to recover and gain the courage to try it again. It’s made with yeast, cinnamon and sugar and you have to follow the cryptic directions of my great-grandmother’s broken English and horrible penmanship on a yellowing recipe card, but somehow a very delicious German Twist comes at the end of an eight-hour baking day.
It’s not an overly-sweet cookie; it doesn’t come from a refrigerated tube. It rises, gets kneaded, rises again, gets rolled, folded, rolled and baked. It doesn’t look like a Disney character when it comes from the oven, so it’s not really appealing to many under the age of 40, but it’s been in my family’s Christmas table for generations.
Every year I attempt the cookie with varying degrees of success. My kids like to help for a little while, but it’s not the most fun kitchen chore. But I do it nonetheless because it’s always been done.
This year, I almost passed up cookie day. I had lots of excuses -- we have just moved, there’s so many things I have to do around the new house, I haven’t unpacked the rolling pin yet. But as I was reluctantly assembling the ingredients at dawn last Sunday, my oldest son came into the kitchen.
“Are you making German Twists today?” he asked.
I sighed. “Yes, I think so.”
“And are you going to send a box of them to Great-Grandpa like you do every year?”
I stopped, recalling that special man. “Yes.”
“It was his mother in-law who made this cookies every year, right?"
I smiled. “Yes. This is what Christmas tasted like to him for the last 70 years.”
“Cool,” he said walking out of the room.
It occurred to me that kids -- and adults -- don’t remember the gifts or if the wrapping paper matched or what the centerpiece looked like, but it’s those truly unique family customs that make holiday memories.
So when you’re cutting back this holiday season, skip the extra trip to the mall and not the batch of cookies or whatever tradition holds meaning for your family.

This is a post I wrote 2 Christmases ago for the Tampa Bay Times. We lost my grandfather last year, but I will be making those German Twists and putting on Christmas to the nines nonetheless.

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