If you recall my Christmas torture list from the other day, there is one item that I purposely did not include, and that is the baking of Christmas cookies. First the parameters: I have absolutely nothing against cookies, eating them by the platter (not just plate), or maybe even baking them if you bribe me beforehand with the moon, the stars, and the diamond studded horizon. Failing that, I refuse, absolutely refuse to join the gazillions of people who are entirely responsible for the shortage of butter, sugar, powdered sugar, vanilla, walnuts, cashew nuts, chocolate chips, and sprinkles in the supermarkets by the end of November. Unless I figure out how to bake cookies without any of the above, I don’t stand a chance in hell to catch up with anyone by December 1 every year, nor do I have the inclination to stand hours and days on end whipping up one batch after another of scrumptious calorie bombs that contribute to the wealth of dentists around the world.
My mother only learned how to bake cookies when she got involved with a sewing group in Mexico and by that time I was already 12. Prior to that she was always a cake lady, creating the most hilarious birthday cakes for children. So she never really passed on the passion for baking cookies to me, and I reluctantly inherited her snickerdoodle recipe before moving away. Much to my horror, I married into a culture and family that is devastatingly passionate about Christmas cookies, and I stared blankly at my in-laws the first year I sat in on the conversation as to how many kinds of cookies to bake that year. Excuse me? Y’all don’t just make five batches of the same thing and hand them out? Oh sorry, wrong nightmare.
My in-laws have a particular range of cookies consisting of eight to ten kinds, depending on the mood of the baker that year (side note, I adore them all). That was the ultimate shock to me and I knew that I was going to be in Christmas cookie torture for the rest of my life because my repertoire consisted of items from the wrong side of the Atlantic: snickerdoodles, chocolate chip, peanut butter, and last but not least, oatmeal cookies. There was no way I was going to present these to the more sophisticated and elegant range that had already established itself in the royal families of Germany and Austria for centuries! Nevertheless, one year I found myself hosting a Christmas open house in New Delhi and decided to throw caution to the wind and bake my humble repertoire with all the courage I could muster (and butter I could lay my hands on). The comment I received afterwards was “nice but not quite like the German cookies my mother makes”. Mortally offended from that moment on, I have been on a lifelong cookie strike and decided instead to perfect my Top Me Twice and chocolate fudge cakes (also inherited from Mommy).
A few Christmases later my daughter (barely three at the time) and I were in Germany for Advent, and I temporarily enrolled her in the local village kindergarten for the sake of socialisation. I had no way of avoiding the dreaded coffee mornings with the yummy mummies, something I hate even more than cookie baking. As we sat down to sip our organic coffee brews ( I pause for you to wrinkle your nose), one mother pointed out that my daughter was peculiar for making chapatis and snakes with her play dough instead of snowmen or cakes like the other children. I explained that my daughter was born in India and hence had been exposed mostly to Indian children thus far. Everyone nodded politely and then switched the topic to hiring the Nikolaus for that year, which Nikolaus they had hired, which one was better, etc. I sat quietly wondering where the nearest emergency exit was in case I decided to set the place on fire within the next five minutes. Then someone remembered I was there and asked what we did about Nikolaus in India. Oh revenge was sweeter than treacle when I said that all the German children gathered at the embassy for cookies and sweats, Lufthansa flew in the chocolate Advent calendars for each family, and the afternoon culminated in Nikolaus riding in on an elephant. The collective gasps around the room was priceless (cue the Mastercard commercial please). “But not a real elephant?!” I stared back with contempt and retorted “This is India we speaking about, of course it’s a real elephant, the same one you hire for your child’s birthday party, with an optional camel on the side.”
The only way to shut me up was to steer the conversation back to German Christmas, and that left the boasting of the cookie repertoires. One woman said she had trouble with her aged in-laws that year so she “only” baked the basic ten kinds, the other one said she had a lot of stress to work out so she had 14 different kinds – I swear I almost choked on my coffee when I heard the number. Then all eyes turned to me again, wanting to know what the exotic family did in India about cookies. You should have seen the look of horror when I said I didn’t bake cookies because I was on a lifelong strike. That was the last time I had coffee with those women.
Much has happened in my life since then, and I still refuse to bake cookies for Christmas, but I have the world’s best sister-in-law who never fails to include me in her very exclusive list. Hell, I don’t’ need Santa when I have her! Every year without fail I receive a magical box from Stuttgart just in time for the Third Sunday of Advent, and I know my Christmas is complete. It is the gift of family, of generosity, and of spirit. Kindness matters.