In my recent newsletter I mentioned that I believe there is much to inspire awe and wonder at this time of year. Certainly time with family & friends; maybe the twinkling holiday lights; the soft glow of the menorah candles; the roots of your holiday celebration with it’s special traditions; and for many of us the beauty of nature in the winter.
As I wrote that, I contemplated what I like about the specialness of the this season and for me, in addition to the fact that I happen to love winter, it’s probably the little things that make it a wonder-filled time of year regardless of one’s age.
My favorite holiday tradition is making ginger cookies with Dad. We've made them together every year since I was one - well, a few weeks before my first birthday. Of course back then I wasn't allowed to do very much helping besides pressing the cookie cutters into the dough and sampling the final product.
I've loved them from that first year even though they are very “old world” style cookies that are heavily spiced with ginger and not sweet.
My mother and sister have never liked them. On "Cookie Night" they would leave to shop or go anywhere just to get away from the smell of ginger. In fact, they couldn’t get out of the house fast enough.
Dad & I would just smile.
So, it has always been something special for the two of us to share and we secretly (or perhaps not so secretly) have always been amused that they can't stand them.
When Dad was young his Aunt Ish made them from a recipe given to her by her mother-in-law, Mrs. Wilhelm. I don’t know who passed it down to her and taught her to make them. Her mother? Grandmother? Great-grandmother? I’ll never know. Aunt Ish didn’t know either how far back it went when I asked her many years ago.
My grandmother started making them too when she saw how much my father liked them. I suspect it was so he didn’t eat every one Aunt Ish baked!
Dad started making them himself when I was almost one because we lived away and wouldn’t be “home” for Christmas. The story is that in October of that year, he realized he wouldn’t have any ginger cookies. He called home and said “Mother, please send THE Ginger Cookie Recipe!”
We’ve made them every year since.
That recipe card is well loved. It’s old, yellowed, batter-stained, and written in my grandmother's handwriting. I smile every time I see it. Not so long ago we started keeping it in a plastic recipe card cover. I suppose before it fades entirely, I’ll have to scan it for preservation.
We still use most of the old cookie cutters and have been known to eat a couple freshly baked cookies before they make it to the tin. Some years they are better than others. We break a few, burn a few, but no matter what, I enjoy this time with Dad.
It fills me with a warm sense of wonder each year thinking about how many of my family's generations have enjoyed these cookies and about how many people I don't know in foreign lands who have also had the recipe passed along to them. Perhaps we all got it from the same ancestor.
I hope you enjoy and pass on the wonder of your old traditions to the next generations or perhaps start new ones. One day it may mean more than you’ll ever know.
Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, Happy Kwanza, Merry Yule, Happy almost year-end and a Joyful whatever else you'll celebrate this month.
May you find specialness in all the little things this season and notice the wonder.