My Favorite Christmas Tradition

Cookies are an important part of how many Americans celebrate Christmas. In December, you can
expect to be offered cookies at parties, in the office, and when you visit friends and relatives in their
homes. Children leave Santa a plate of cookies with a glass of milk on Christmas Eve to help him
power through his long night of delivering presents, and they are often given as gifts starting in early
December.

Cookies date to Medieval times, when many of the flavours we associate with Christmas-cinnamon,
nutmeg and dried fruits-were rare and costly. Christmas was a time to showcase these luxurious
ingredients. The tradition is thought to have been introduced to the American colonies by the Dutch,
who brought the first cookie cutters over in the 17th century. As cookie cutters became more widely
available, recipes began appearing in cookbooks specifically for the holiday season.

For many Americans, Christmas cookies are a link to the places and cultures their ancestors
immigrated from. My Grandmother, whose parents were German, sent us a package of gingerbread
cookies each year, similar to the ones that can be found in any Polish grocery store. Biting into these
was a small connection to an ancestry my family had otherwise largely lost.

There are hundreds if not thousands of types of cookies. Many families have a few favourite recipes
that have been passed down through generations and which they bake annually. In my house
growing up, we had several standards we baked every year. I still remember our edition of the 1950’s
Betty Crocker Cookbook, a heavy volume that included the recipe for jam thumbprints, a chewy
cookie rolled in nuts with a dollop of jam in the centre. The recipe for Mexican Wedding Cakes,
crumbly cookies coated in powdered sugar, could be found in an old Lutheran Church cookbook my
mother had picked up at a garage sale. My mother always made simple sugar cookies and cut them
into reindeer and snowmen for my brother and I to decorate. I learned to make all of these and
more, and slowly took over holiday baking from my mother as I got older.

With so many options, it’s a daunting task to choose just a few recipes to bake. A great way to
sample and share a wider variety of cookies is to attend a cookie swap. At cookie swaps, participants
bring large batches of one or two types of cookies which they exchange with other participants.
Swaps take place in churches, schools, community centres and homes, and are an opportunity to
socialize and celebrate. They ensure that everyone gets a variety of treats without spending the
whole month of December in the kitchen.

As you can imagine, by January, many of us are a few pounds heavier and have had our fill of cookies.
While I love this tradition and look forward to it each year, I am also glad when it’s time to close the
cookbooks, and put away the sprinkles, and return to healthier snacks.

Daunting (adjective) difficult to deal with; intimidating
Generation (noun) all the people born in a certain time period
Swap (noun) the act of exchanging one thing for another
Annually (adverb) happening one time a year
Batch (noun) a group of things, often collocated with cookies

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