Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas means cookies

I live a very conflicted existence with Christmas.

You see, I was raised in a Jewish family, the type of family where I was taught very, very, very firmly that I was NOT Christian. Not that there was anything bad about being Christian, of any sort of Christian denomination, but just that it wasn't what we were. We didn't celebrate Christmas. We didn't have a Christmas tree. We were Jews and we did Hanukkah and we had eight days of presents, which was better than Santa. (Yes, I was one of those horrible children that spoiled the myth of Santa for others--what can I say, I'm evil. =)

Sometimes we got invited over to celebrate Christmas with family friends, but most years, we had what is affectionately known as "a Jewish Christmas". We would get Chinese food, since Chinese restaurants are some of the few that are open on Christmas Day, and we would go to the movies. It was great. =) I was happy and content with my life the way it was.

Not that we didn't do some things ever year during our winter break, but those revolved more around the secular nature of what everyone else was doing. We'd drive around and look at the Christmas lights because they were pretty. We'd try to go into NYC every year, to look at all the department store windows on Fifth Avenue, to see the tree in Rockefeller Center, and most important of all, to visit FAO Schwartz. Mind you, the trips were always combined with visiting a museum, and I looked forward to the museum parts just as much as the rest of it.

But then I grew up.

And I married a man who was raised as an atheist who celebrates Christmas and Easter with his family, purely as secular holidays, at least in his immediate family.

And Christmas became a battleground. I dated my husband for almost six years before we were married, and I was not invited to Christmas except for the last two years of our relationship. My mother-in-law, for reasons of her own, wanted to keep the holiday family-only, and I didn't count as family. So naturally, because I am a contrary person, I very much wanted to celebrate Christmas with my husband's family. Go figure. =)

Let's fasf-forward to the present day, when all our conflicts have been mostly resolved and I *am* accepted as family, because I am married now. And I do get to go to Christmas. And we will celebrate by first eating an enormous lunch at one set of relatives' house, and then going back to my in-laws' house, digesting, and then eating an enormous dinner cooked by my mother-in-law. I have no idea why they do the double meals, but they do. I roll out the door by the end of the celebration.

And there are always the cookies, something my mother-in-law excels at. Even when I wasn't invited to Christmas, my family and I always got a plate of Christmas cookies from her, which we looked forward to every year.

But this year, there are no cookies.

For understandable reasons, as my mother-in-law has just lost her father, and is not exactly in the mood to bake.

But when I found out last night, that she really hadn't baked any, that there weren't any sitting in the freezer from right after Thanksgiving, when she usually starts baking... well let's say I wasn't happy. Not because I need cookies; trust me, I'm not that insensitive of a lout. But because somehow, over the last six years, Christmas has come to mean my mother-in-law's cookies. And I will miss them terribly this year.

So this afternoon, I am going to bake the cookies, and bring them to Christmas.

It won't be her recipes and it won't be any large variety...

But there will be cookies for Christmas.

(And this seems to have turned into a somewhat depressing post, but it really wasn't meant to be. Merry Christmas everyone!)


Anonymous said...

No post is depressing that brings news of more cookies in the world, especially the kind with colored sugar and those little silver balls. Makes me happy just thinking about it.

Merry Everything, Happy Cookie Baking!

Amie Stuart said...

Aww I think that's a wonderful gift!

Merry Christmas!

Angelle said...

I think that's beautiful!

I'm 2,000 miles away from my mother and about to attempt her gingerbread for the first time - happy baking and Merry Christmas! (Merry Cookie-mas?)

Christa M. Miller said...

That's not depressing at all. You are such a thoughtful daughter-in-law, and I'm sure she will appreciate your gesture more than you'll know.

Anonymous said...

Well, by baking the beloved Christmas cookies and taking them to your mother-in-law who is still working through the grieving process, you, young Jewish woman married to an atheist, are demonstrating that you *get* Christmas better than 99.9% of bible thumping Christians I'll be seated next to at church later today. No matter what the cookies look like or taste like, you are to be commended for your loving act of kindness. Underneath all the crap, that is really what it's all about.

Susan said...

I just moved ~2000 miles away from home in August and don't have the money to go back for Christmas, so I actually had my mother email me the recipe for the cookies that I liked best, and I'm going to make them this afternoon. It's not the same, but somehow they're too important a thing to just forget about.

SaraMurphy said...

The post isn’t as depressing as you think. One of the things I’ve always believed is that as time passes the younger generation takes over the traditions. We keep the ones that mean the most to us, and allow the ones we didn’t like to drift into memory.

And so the baking of cookies has passed to you. Next year when she has recovered somewhat, you should bring a batch of the cookies that you do the best at this year. Ask for some of her recipes; offer to do a batch or two. This way, you learn her cookies and they can be passed on in great tradition.

I grew up in an atheist home and we had traditions that I looked forward to every year. Christmas eve we would go out to dinner and to the movies. Christmas day, no matter what was the main course for dinner my mother always made vichyssoise. It’s supposed to be served cold, but we’d eat it warm as the first course.

Vichyssoise is the tradition I kept. Our kids are still little enough that we have to sprinkle reindeer food (oatmeal and glitter) on the sidewalk for the reindeer to eat while Santa has his cookies.

Merry Christmas to you.

sognatrice said...

Best of luck on your cookies! I made a few hundred this year and if I was closer, I'd have sent you some :)

Happy holidays!

Tess said...

Not a depressing Christmas at all, Jenny :) And what a wonderful, thoughtful daughter-in-law you are. Enjoy the celebration - cookies and all!

Sheryl Nantus said...

I think it's a wonderfully sweet thing to do. And it'll be appreciated by everyone.

Many good karma points upon you for doing such a wonderful thing.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

No, no, no! Chinese food is for TONIGHT. We're going at six; can you guys be here in time?

Merry Christmas!

DoA Writer said...

Happy Holidays, Jenny!

Ty Johnston said...

Hah! I had to laugh! Sorry. I thought your post was cute, not depressing. My wife is Jewish, and I was raised Christian, so we've had our concerns. However, she loves Christmas, so it's not been a problem for either of us. No tree this year, but there's plenty of food and presents.

Congrats on the cookies! They always bring a little cheer into the world, regardless of whether it's a holiday or not.

Jill said...

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah, Jenny. The spirit of love and hope that Christmas brings, along with the hope of Hanukkah transcend religious boundaries. I hope next year is prosperous and full of accomplishment for you.


KingM said...

I love reading comments like this because I have the opposite view from all those people who want to put "Christ back in Christmas" or remind us of "the reason for the season."

I'm purely secular but love Christmas. Just get rid of that silly nativity and let us enjoy our celebration at a time of the year when we really need it. Food, family, gifts, lights, trees--I like it all, except for that Jesus stuff.

Ben S. D. said...

Christmas without cookies isn't a Christmas worth having. Hence, anybody who works to uphold a "Christmas-worth-having" is okay in my book.

Merry Christmas, Jenny. :)

Kimber An said...

Well, I would send you a dozen peanut butter cookies, because that's what I baked for Christmas this year. But, I swear, if I see another peanut butter cookie, I'm going to grab my head in both hands and run away screaming.

It's tough being 'The Mom' at Christmas!

Kudos to you for assuming the cookie baking ritual.

Anonymous said...

Your story brought tears to my eyes. It wasn't depressing, it was heart warming. Forget all the religious overtones for a moment. It doesn't matter what my religion is or your religion is at this moment. You saw a void, and out of the kindness of your heart, you filled it. If more people could do that, it wouldn't matter what religion any of us are, we would all get along and the world would be a better place. I hope you have a wonderful 2008.

Ryan Field said...

I thought it was a beautiful post.

And in a way, though this might be stretching things, the Christmas cookies you baked could almost be looked upon as shiva cookies, too...given the circumstances.

Kaleb - said...

Merry Christmas and thanks for a great year of blogs!

Seth Ward said...

I don't think it was depressing at all. In fact, I'd say you are doing something that resembles what Christmas should be about.

Sandy said...

Hi Jenny,
You've shared more than a desire and intent to bake cookies in place of your mother-in-law. Would you like to expand on the relationship and include this story in a collection titled His MOther: Women Write About their Mothers-in-Law With Humor, Frustration, and Love
compiled and edited by
Sandy Richardson and Dinah Johnson? We'd love to have you contribute...

Jenny Rappaport said...

Sandy, can you e-mail me privately about the collection? Thanks!