When my mother pulled out the copper-colored cookie cutters, I knew the Christmas season was well under way. She made the best sugar cookies ever (I have her recipe) and my sister Nancy and I knelt on the kitchen chairs, eager to decorate (and sample) them. Mom frosted and we sugared. I can only remember a few choices, but I never felt creatively-deprived. We had red and green sugar and those little multi-colored balls that bounced and rolled everywhere.
I adopted the tradition and shared it with my daughter and son, but we had such fun that twelve months seemed such a long time to wait before we could do it again. I bought hearts for Valentine’s Day, bunnies for Easter, leaves for autumn, pumpkins for Halloween, and turkeys for Thanksgiving. And for those months without a holiday, I found Mickey Mouse, the Peanuts characters, an airplane, and a cat. More events led to more decorating choices: chocolate jimmies, blue and yellow sugars, and the “Christmas combo” (red, green and white jimmies). We experimented with different frosting colors, but decided in the end to stick with white French Cream frosting (with a hint of almond extract) and let the sugars be the star of the show.
I set some ground rules. Wash hands before starting and no licking fingers while decorating. The payoff? The last cookie was theirs to decorate any way they wanted and that one was theirs to eat. I think the sugar level was a solid ½ inch. While the cookies set, we went outside to burn off the sugar high.
It may have started out as a simple, innocent way to pass the time, but my children learned valuable, lifelong lessons from those afternoons around the kitchen table. They learned patience, cooperation, and restraint. They learned to be creative, to wait their turn, and they learned about generosity (the cookies were given away as gifts and shared with family members). They learned about conversation etiquette (with an adult and each other), seeing a task through to completion, and how to clean up after one’s self. They learned to be accepting of another’s efforts, even if they liked their own creation better. And they learned how to give a compliment.
Are today’s children missing out on those lessons in their electronic, hard-wired lives? Sure, we think they’re clever and savvy, but I’d be willing to bet they’d shut off their electronic entertainment in a nanosecond and pull a chair up to a tray full of cookies, frosting, and decorative sugars.
My children are grown, but cookie decorating is still a part of our holiday celebrations. We have wonderful conversations, catch up on each other’s lives, and they help with preparation and cleanup. They still wash before handling, no licking, and they still load up that last cookie.
I’m not sure if my mother knew the value of what she was doing when she took time from her endless chores to spend time with us. I’m so grateful. Mom would be proud.