68: Baking on Christmas Eve

68: Baking on Christmas Eve

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Christmas in Canada

Baking on Christmas Eve

Give freely to the world these gifts of love and compassion. Do not concern yourself with how much you receive in return, just know in your heart it will be returned.

~Steve Maraboli, Life, the Truth, and Being Free

Every year I say I am not going to bake. But as Christmas grows closer, comforting childhood memories draw me to my cookbook. Christmas just isn’t Christmas for me without star shaped sugar cookies and the family’s famous rum balls. And baking with a snifter of something, or coffee laced with rum, makes it just that more Christmassy.

And so it was on that particular Christmas Eve, I was baking. I did not normally bake so last minute, but I had been working overtime. And there was a reason I wanted to do extra baking that Christmas: I was newly single for the second time, and my first ex and our adult children were coming for Christmas dinner. I wanted to make it special.

“Shortbread,” I said to the dog, who was hanging out in the kitchen, “I will make shortbread, and those little cookies with a maraschino cherry on top. And I could make chocolate covered almond bark — I have chocolate left over and everyone loves almond bark.”

I got to work. It was a strange Christmas Eve, being on my own, the first ever not sharing the usual rituals and last minute gift-wrapping with family. The baking made it feel more normal. I allowed myself just a splash of rum in my coffee, no more, as I was on call with the crisis line. There were two of us on call that night; I was second in line and didn’t expect to receive a phone call. Even so I drank the rest of my coffee minus the rum.

I loved baking for other people. I recalled making fudge for my father and how much he enjoyed it. I remembered first learning to bake cookies and cake at age nine, and watching my dad make Christmas pudding. And I recalled that Christmas at my house, when our kids were little, the one when we knew it was my dad’s last as he was dying of cancer, the one where we didn’t know it was also my father-in-law’s last Christmas. We had all the family in our little house, with the tables stretched from the living room out into the hall where the youngest children sat at a card table. Sixteen of us in all, and I had baked for days. I cooked the turkey and made the gravy the way my father always made it. He barely touched his dinner, but I knew he approved.

I was remembering all the Christmases past and wondering about my need to nurture with baking when the phone rang. It was eleven o’clock on the night before Christmas, and I had just removed the last tray of shortbread from the oven. It was Mara, my crisis line partner. We had a call to go to the R.C.M.P. station in the nearby town of Lake Cowichan to pick up a woman and her preschool children. The police had rescued her from a violent domestic scene and she needed to be escorted to the women’s shelter immediately. At that time there was no shelter in our area; the nearest one was in Nanaimo, about a one-and-a-half-hour drive from where we were to pick her up.

While I waited for Mara to collect me, I placed cookies, short-bread and almond bark in a small box to give to the woman we were meeting. I wondered if she had time to grab her kids’ Christmas gifts before leaving her house. What a horrible way to spend Christmas; my heart went out to her. Like my parents, I always had extra gifts on hand at Christmas. I rummaged through what I had: Scented soap and hand lotion should be all right for the mother. A puzzle, a children’s book and those rolls of Life Savers, multi flavours all packaged together, would do for the kids. In spite of the seriousness of the occasion, I was humming Christmas carols as I wrapped the gifts for the little family.

The woman was young and already looked beaten down by life, and I gathered this wasn’t a new occurrence. She flashed us a defiant glance, a “don’t dare judge me look,” as she shuffled her kids into the back seat of our car. Snow was threatening, and it was already past midnight and into Christmas Day when we left the police station in the small lakeside community.

We tried to draw out the girl. She talked a bit about what happened, and seemed resigned about her husband’s violence and worried that she was ruining his Christmas. There wasn’t much we could do except drive her to a safe place where she would receive counselling and nurturing, so we drove through the chilly winter night mostly in silence and let her and the two young ones sleep.

When we dropped them off in Nanaimo I gave her my bag of baked goods and wrapped gifts, and briefly saw the protective veneer of toughness leave her face as she thanked me, her voice breaking with emotion. We watched as the mother and two young children were received by a caring support worker in the wee hours of Christmas Day. I silently sent her love as we turned our car around and began the long drive home.

A few hours later when my children and former husband arrived for Christmas dinner, I hugged them with fierce love, squishing them tight in my need to keep them safe. And then I fed them until they couldn’t move. It was all I could do.

~Liz Maxwell Forbes

Crofton, British Columbia

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