The Smell of Christmas

Growing up, my mother baked at Christmastime. Not that she didn’t bake throughout the rest of the year, but Christmas was a frenzy of flour and powdered sugar and mad dashes on my father’s part to the grocery store for more maraschino cherries, Hershey Kisses, or Baker’s chocolate. In the end, there was enough cookies to keep us kids on a sugar high until President’s Day.

It’s a funny thing when you grow up and realize that some of the things you took for granted were all-out hard work and sacrifice for your parents. I can barely keep up with my full-time job, writing, running the kids to and fro, dashing off to piano lessons or choir practice, and keeping the family in clean socks and dry mittens. Then I resort to a little help from a refrigerated tube depicting a Pillsbury Doughboy. I try my best at Christmastime to whip up some memories with the kids, but it pales in comparison to my childhood memories of kitchen activities.

My mom, on the other hand, rallies during the holidays and produces a merry assortment of baked goods. Armed with mixing bowls, spatulas, cookie cutters and a shocking amount of butter (no judging – when you grow up on a dairy farm that’s just how you roll!), she mixes, rolls, drops, spritzes, cuts, and bakes pan after pan. Peanut butter blossoms (with Hershey Kisses, not Brach’s stars, mind you!), cut-outs, chocolate bon-bons, peppermint meringues, thumbprints, spritz, rosettes, fig pinwheels, almond crescents, fudge, divinity… there’s seemingly no end.

Where some people may have made a single or double batch, my mom would make 4, 5, or 6 times batches. Sometimes more. Did we need these many cookies? Yes. We did. There were eleven of us. There were a dozen daycare kids. There were cookie platters to send to neighbors and shut-ins. There were holiday parties and potlucks. There were milkmen who would happily grab a cookie or two for the road and mailmen who were tickled to take a gingerbread man or slab of fudge.

When we were little, the smell of cut-outs or thumbprints baking to a gentle golden brown just around the edges had us running to the kitchen. We clambered to help with frosting and decorating. We sat in little groups, dutifully unwrapping Kisses and popping a few in our mouths as we worked through bag after bag. Those of us with stronger throwing arms got the job of chopping nuts in the old hand crank nut chopper.

I was in middle school the December my mom’s Sunbeam mixer went kaputt halfway through a three times batch of peanut butter cookies. Horrors! This was a tragedy, to be sure! And so, my father, a hater of shopping and congested retail spaces, made his way to the mall, battling crowds and Minnesota parking lots in December to buy her a new KitchenAid mixer. She was back in business and we breathed a sigh of relief. Yes, there would be peppermint meringue cookies for Christmas Eve!

Tomorrow’s plan? Mixing up some spritz and cut-outs with the kids. The colored sugars and cinnamon redhots are at the ready. Bottles of food coloring stand at attention. The butter and flour are good to go. Soon the house will be filled with the heavenly smell of Christmas cookies plumping to a light golden brown. Mmmm.

Whether you live for Christmas cut-outs, anticipate krumkake, look forward to fudge, or celebrate the yearly gingerbread man decorating, I hope you all are able to carve out time this busy holiday season to enjoy the smells and tastes of the season!

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