85. Cookies for Christmas

85. Cookies for Christmas

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Merry Christmas!

Cookies for Christmas

Cookies are made of butter and love.

~Norwegian Proverb

There are so many sights, sounds and smells I associate with Christmas: the evergreen trees with their twinkling lights and colorful ornaments; the sounds of Christmas music on the radio, TV, and everyone’s lips; and the smell of Christmas goodies baking in the oven. One of the memories I treasure is the smell of my mom’s Christmas cookies as they grew golden brown in the oven. That smell said Christmas to me.

My mom made cookies year-round, and my brothers and sister and I loved to help her mix the dough and make the round, flat cookies that got popped into the oven and then into our mouths. Making cookies was a family affair, and we all had our chance at helping our mom and sharing in the rewards.

But making her golden Christmas cookies, which melted in your mouth and had just the slightest taste of vanilla, was a part of Christmas that brought our whole family joy. We would pour and mix and roll and bake the cookies, talking and laughing and singing Christmas songs throughout the morning of Christmas Eve. We looked over each cookie, picking out the best to leave for Santa. Knowing there would be a plateful of cookies waiting for us on Christmas morning made things even more special.

Remembering that feeling of joy, of sharing special moments of the Christmas season with my mom and my siblings, I decided after I got married and had kids I would do the same for my family. I would carry on the Christmas tradition and give my own children the chance to experience the joy I felt every time we slid a batch of freshly made Christmas cookies out of the oven.

My mom kept most of the recipes she used over the years in her head, and so I sat and wrote down the list of ingredients I’d need as she told them to me. Her instructions included such tidbits as “Make sure you use good genuine vanilla, and choose really tasty pecans if you’re going to have nuts in your cookies. Keep them soft but make sure the edges are crisp, and give everyone something to do.”

At the supermarket I felt my excitement and anticipation of my very first Christmas cookie bake with my family grow as I dropped each ingredient into my shopping basket. By the time I got to the checkout register I was nearly dancing with joy. I told the checkers and the customers behind me that this was going to be one of the best Christmases ever.

Back home I gathered up my wife and kids and led them to the kitchen. “We are about to create a Christmas tradition for our family,” I told them. I handed each one either an ingredient of some sort, a bowl, or some utensil we’d need to create that golden perfection to come. “Get ready for a Christmas treat to beat all treats!”

At first the kids were confused about what they were doing in the kitchen. But after a while we all got into the swing of things, and after putting some Christmas music on the CD player we really felt the spirit. We laughed and sang and cracked eggs and whipped butter. By the time we popped the first batch of cookies into the oven the kitchen was a disaster but we didn’t mind. All our thoughts were centered on the first taste of those wonderful Christmas cookies to come.

Twenty minutes later my wife slid the cookie tray out of the oven and we laid eyes on a dozen yellow, puffy, perfectly baked cookies. The smell that rose from those morsels took me back to my childhood, and I stood next to the kids, my mouth watering, barely able to contain my excitement. My wife took a spatula and laid a warm, soft cookie in each of our hands. Looking at each other, I nodded, and we bit into a little piece of heaven.

Well, not exactly heaven. The cookie was chewy, maybe more than chewy — elastic-like might be a better description. That tiniest taste of vanilla was more of a bitter aftertaste in the back of my mouth, and the cookie itself went from chewy to hard as a rock in a matter of seconds. I watched as my wife tapped her cookie against the counter.

“I think it’s a little tough,” she said.

“Maybe we over-baked them,” I offered, but such was not the case. We left the next batch in the oven a little less time but the cookies were harder than steel. One sniff and my kids wouldn’t even take a bite. My wife shook her head and patted me on the shoulder. I swallowed a hard, bitter-tasting bite of cookie.

“What went wrong?” I asked.

Just then, as if in answer to that very question, the doorbell rang. I went to answer it and there was my mom, with presents for the family and a plate of freshly baked Christmas cookies! The smell of those cookies hit the noses of my kids and they came running. When I bit into one of her cookies the taste, the smell, and the wonderful memories came flooding back. I realized then that I had left out one vital ingredient in making my mom’s Christmas cookies: my mom! As we sat down to enjoy the Christmas ham that only my wife could possibly make, I came to understand that there’s a secret ingredient you always need in life: the love that only those people most special to you can give.

~John P. Buentello

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