Family Traditions

Even in the lost traditions this year, there's an opportunity for something old to become new again.

I don’t usually bake many Christmas cookies. My mother-in-law makes an amazing assortment that she shares with us for Christmas each year, which frees me up to just make cut-outs with my kids. However, in the shadow of the pandemic, our holiday plans won’t be quite as normal this year, which seems to be true for nearly everyone. Finding comfort amidst the change of plans this year, I decided to dust off my cookbooks and come up with a couple of Christmas cookie recipes I could bake with my children this week. 

While I was in pursuit of a chewy gingerbread recipe, I found a cookbook I didn’t realize I even had. It was a collection of recipes from a church my grandmother, “Nanny,” had been a part of, and inside were several handwritten recipes of hers. As I flipped through the pages, I saw her notes written next to favorite recipes. I remembered the way her house smelled when she made spaetzle, and her note to add more flour to the recipe. And then, I saw something I hadn’t expected: her cream wafer recipe. My favorite Christmas cookie, one I haven’t had in years. 

The last time we saw each other, I was really still a kid, pretending to be an adult like most college students. My life has changed a million times since we said goodbye fifteen years ago. However, when I saw that recipe, I was overcome with a wave of grief and delight. The surprise of seeing her handwriting paired with the memory of Christmases spent together was a sweet reminder of my own childhood, of how loved I was by her. 

Christmas is layered with so many traditions and expectations. There’s the obvious things: the presents, the people, the parties and the food. But underneath each element lies an opportunity to delight or to disappoint. I have been guilty of placing way too much pressure on Christmas day that I miss out on the goodness, but it’s there even if I miss it. 

2020 has been tough, there’s no doubt. There are many traditions broken this year, and there are people we love who we can’t be with this year. This has been a hard, stressful year for everyone, and not spending Christmas the way we’re used to feels strange and sad.

Yet, with each change, there’s an opportunity to replace the lost thing with something new, or in my case, something old and forgotten. We can resurrect forgotten recipes, re-watch family videos, reminisce about years gone by. We can look to our children, to the future, and pass the good things down as we take the love that was poured into us by generations past, and pour that into our own babies — our children, our nieces and nephews, our students, our friends’ kids.

The thing we’re all after at Christmas is to show those we love how much we love them and to feel loved ourselves. In the end, there’s really nothing that can stop that, not even a pandemic. 

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Colleen Cook works full-time as the Director of Operations at Vinyl Marketing in Ashland, where she resides with her husband Mike and three young daughters. She's an insatiable extrovert who enjoys finding reasons to gather people.