My best friend went to a Cookie Exchange Party last year and called me after she got home to rail at the Cookie Gods!
She had laboured lovingly over her Candy Cane Cookies. She had crushed candy canes into little bits and then gently kneaded them into the shortbread dough. She had even dyed half the dough red so that when she braided the two strands together the candy cane cookie would totally look like the real thing. It had taken her the better part of a day but they were her kid’s favourite and she felt that they were special enough for the exchange.
“Pillsbury dough cookies! People brought Pillsbury dough cookies! You know the kind with the snowman in them! And chocolate chip cookies! There were a ton of chocolate chips cookies made from frozen dough! I make chocolate chip cookies every week! Those aren’t Christmas cookies!”
After I talked her off the cookie cliff it got me thinking. What is the criterion for a Christmas cookie? Or a Christmas Cookie Exchange?
Is a commercial product that you buy in the dairy case count as a holiday cookie? And if no, why not?
Growing up we had special cookies that were only made for Christmas. I can still see and smell them – My Grandma’s Sugar Cookies and Mom’s Shortbread.
The sugar cookies made from my Grandma’s recipe were rolled out, baked, iced and then sprinkled with coloured sugar! A coveted job that we kids loved doing! My brother was a single colour kind of guy – me? Red, green, and silver! I was into multicolours even back then.
Then my mom made shortbread.
The butter was brought to room temperature, the sugar added, the flours, the kneading (done by my dad), the cookie dough shaped into logs and then into the fridge overnight, the next day they were cut into slices and baked sending the butter perfume wafting through the house. Once baked they were hidden away for when company came over! Okay, we all got one then, but the rest were for when people came over to visit.
Both recipes only made an appearance in our house in December. Both were made with butter. Both fairly labour intensive. Both involved all family members for certain skills. Both were delicious. And the smell of either one still makes me think of Christmas.
So I’m wondering – is it the special appearance in December part that equals Christmas? Is it the labour intensive part, the communal spirit part, or is it the ritual of tradition that makes a Cookie a Christmas Cookie?
As a foodie and a tweeter I have been reading endless tweets from my fellow foodies as they list off the gems that are coming out of their ovens; gingerbread cookies, nut cookies, cinnamon cookies, sugar cookies, and the much loved shortbread cookie.
We foodies are keeping Christmas baking alive and well, but what about everyone else? Does the real world still bake special, labour intensive, traditional Christmas cookies? Based on my friend’s experience the answer is no. I know that this is a tiny microscopic view of Christmas but I think that it is indicative of what is happening to our food based traditions; real people aren’t baking their family favourites anymore and it makes me very sad. Because I believe that as we lose our foodie traditions we start to lose who we are as a culture. Take away my shortbread cookies at Christmas and I lose part of my family’s traditions and part of myself.
So I fired up my oven and I baked a batch of my family’s Christmas favourites. I don’t want to lose those memories; they’re the stuff that keeps me glued together for the rest of the year.
And what about Cookie Exchanges? Is it alright to bake a batch of frozen cookie dough? It depends.
I think you need to establish some rules or suggestions before you organize one. Here’s a new spin that we could all try this year. Organize a Traditional Christmas Cookie Exchange Party.
Everyone brings the cookies that their Grandma or their Mom made at Christmas. Celebrate your heritage with friends and let the baking begin.