My kitchen is the last place you will ever look into for traditional Christmas cookies, especially German Christmas Cookies. Let me tell you why: my mother learned to bake cookies very late in life, and had it not been for the American and European expats she met during our years in Kenya and Mexico, she never would have even started. She was perfectly fine with supporting the local economy and buying them from the supermarket or bakery. Then she got involved with all the baker wives who gave her grief for not making her own cakes, pies and cookies. Eventually, with Daddy’s supportive and constructive comments, she got the hang of it and was really good at it. Nothing fancy, but enough to make her little daughter happy. Chiffon cakes were her forte while I was growing up, and later on she branched out into fudge cakes and all sorts of goodies. Our standard repertoire consisted of lemon squares, blueberry cream cheese bars, chocolate chip cookies, peanut butter cookies, oatmeal cookies and snickerdoodles. This is pretty much the same repertoire I carried on, even though I never enjoyed baking and hated cookie making.
Then one fine day in India, we hosted our first open house for the expat community that had, like us, remained in Delhi for the holidays. I made several litres of hot mulled wine (Glühwein), which in 1994 was no easy feat because the sourcing of wine was tricky if you weren’t from the diplomatic circles. Then I baked my mom’s repertoire, and was pretty proud of the outcome considering that I had no clue how many people were actually going to show up for this open house. It could have been anywhere between two and 80, so I prepared for 60.
When I asked my husband for his opinion on the cookies, he dutifully tried one each, and commented “They are good but not as good as my mother’s Christmas cookies.” Humiliated by the comment and my pride smarting from the insult, I decided that year to go on a lifelong strike of Christmas cookie baking and let my mother-in-law and sister-in-law supply the cookies from then on. My cookie baking was restricted to class contributions or bake sale donations from then on. To this day, in spite of the divorce, I still receive a Christmas care package from my sister-in-law with my share of cookies!
There was one Christmas we spent in Germany while my daughter was not in Kindergarten yet. I signed her up for the village playgroup at the Protestant Church and had an interesting cultural experience. My daughter stood out among the other children at the time from day one. While the rest of the group made pretend food and farm animals with clay, my daughter sat there rolling out chapattis and made coiled up snakes. As Advent rolled around, the talk among the mothers centred primarily around Christmas cookies and how many varieties they were going to bake that year. It ranged from 8-13 kinds and I was absolutely horrified. I kept my mouth shut as long as I could, refusing to participate in the conversation until the women noticed my silence. Imagine the horrified silence at the table when I announced that I was on a life-long cookie strike, and if my husband wanted cookies he had to get them from his mother. You could have heard a pin drop!
Then a week before Nikolaus Tag (December 6) that year the talk turned towards hiring a Nikolaus to visit the homes and hand out presents or whether Opa or Uncle So-and-so was going to play the roll. Then they turned to me again and asked how we celebrated Nikolaus in India. I grinned and told them how Nikolaus Tag was celebrated at the German Embassy every year and Nikolaus rode in on an elephant, except for the year the ambassador’s wife had a fit and banned elephants from the embassy grounds because the grass was always ruined after Nikolaus. So Nikolaus came on a camel the following year, but, someone parked the camel near the plants and under a fancy flowering tree, and proceeded to munch on them. Camel was banned from the embassy. So the year after that Nikolaus came in a more biblical manner… on a donkey. By this time the village ladies of the Protestant Church decided I was far too exotic for them and opted not to include me in the cookie baking marathons. Thank goodness!
In spite of the fact that the Christmas cookie was born in Europe and gingerbread (lebkuchen) was invented by the Franconian monks in Germany, I still can’t be bothered to make cookies. But am willing to indulge in Mommy’s fruitcake – but or New Year’s Eve, not Christmas. I refused to be dragged down by tradition and will do things my way.