THE COOKIES ENDURED
While some traditions ended, my boys always got their holiday treats
LIANE FAULDER Life in the 60s
In a couple of days, it will be December, and my Christmas preparation can officially begin. Note the use of the singular in connection with the word “preparation.”
Yes, I have one, and only one, Christmas ritual that I have performed every December for the past 35 years: the hallowed mixing of flour and sugar to create exactly three dozen sugar cookies in the shapes of bells and stars and Santas. These cookies are for my boys, today giant men in their 30s with families of their own who haven't even lived in Edmonton for quite some time.
I don't expect you to be impressed by this effort. My own mother was not.
“Is that it?” she would say when I performed the yearly rite. I understood her dismay; she had hoped to pass on the legacy of an icing-sugar-dusted wonderland each holiday season — the creation of countless and varied festive dainties proudly displayed on a large, etched glass plate that would come out after dinner on Dec. 25. Shortbread with a glistening maraschino cherry in the centre, rich clumps of milk chocolate-covered chow mein noodles studded with peanuts, sweetly tart lemon squares.
At the time, I, too, wished I could do more Christmas baking. But along with working full time, the pace and pressure of holiday activity left me breathless and barely covering the basics. I did craft Nanaimo squares for the school's Christmas bake sale. Once I was involved in a cookie exchange: very stressful. But for the most part, after I had tucked those sugar cookies (so precious with their red and green sprinkles) into Tupperware, I put away the apron for the season.
Looking back, I see now that I was one of those people who didn't get a lot of pleasure from Christmas. My mother did a bang-up job of the season. My memory is stuffed with the rattle and shriek of the pressure cooker as it prepared the fruit-studded pudding, the 20-pound turkey that went into the oven so early on Christmas Day, the scissor-curled strands of ribbon. That blurry carousel was my very childhood and I planned to replicate that for my children, too. I had a vision for my future, the way it would be, the person I would become and it tilted toward glittery and tinsel strewn.
But ours was a different experience. Their dad and I separated when the boys were two and four, and while I am truly proud of our co-parenting effort — we spent our Christmas mornings together for many years — it lead to a truncated holiday season. Baking with the boys was squeezed in during our time together in the week-on/weekoff rotation, along with photos on Santa's knee and Grandpa's band Christmas concert. I'm not sure how the boys feel about their Christmas experiences between their two homes; part of me is frightened to ask.
But the sugar cookies — that worked. Making and eating them together was something we all enjoyed. As they got older and knew somehow what the cookies meant to me, the boys made a big fuss about the ritual.
Once they moved away for good, settling eventually in Vancouver and Calgary, I stopped performing most Christmas traditions, going without a tree for the decade that I lived on my own in my condominium before I met my husband. I didn't care. I didn't miss it.
But through it all, the cookies endured. I sent them to distant cities when possible, and when that was impractical, I gave them to my parents. When my mom went into the nursing home, my dad enjoyed them as much, perhaps more, than the boys. This Christmas, my mom and dad are both gone. Still, I will make the cookies.
Here's something that's great about getting older. I used to think that those cookies weren't enough. There should have been more. Now, I know better. Looking back on all those Christmas cookies (I added them up, there were 1,260) they no longer feel like a symbol of all that I wasn't doing. Now they feel like a tremendous, and appreciated, effort through good times and bad.
Sometimes getting older feels like a redrafting of the past. We may think of things differently, in retrospect, and I wonder what that says about the reality, the veracity of our own experience. Was it never enough? Was it more than enough? I look for touchstones, for truth, and I find cookies.