As a child, when I went to the grocery store with my mom, most of our conversations went something like this:
Me: Mom, can we buy _____?
Needless to say, my family typically made everything homemade when we could. Our lives revolved around tending to our garden, baking, canning, working on the farm, and cooking (self-disclosure—I grew up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin). We raised our own animals, my grandma brought over eggs, and the cows produced our milk. Self-sufficiency reigned supreme—buying something that we could make ourselves wasn’t even considered. Desserts were no exceptions: double batches of cookies were made and given to our farm employees, apple pies (the apples coming from Uncle Howard’s orchards, of course) were shared at church, and homemade brownies were fought over by our extended family whenever they stopped by (which in a farming community was always).
The holidays were a special time to make things—and we spent hours baking with my mom in the kitchen. Mom’s peanut butter balls, chocolate covered pretzels, almond bars, decorated sugar cookies, and more were things of legend and I was proud to help her. Carefully wrapped, they were distributed on Christmas Eve to neighbors, relatives, and friends. This is a tradition that I have struggled to balance with my own family for the past few years—what is the best way to share with my kids the traditions I grew up?
I’m a mom to two little girls, and I am always conscious of healthy eating, which to me in the easiest sense means avoiding sugar. This is usually easy to do—until I start to bake, especially around the holidays. It feels like from the end of October to January, I’m in a constant battle to keep my kids eating well while allowing them to participate in the “extended” holiday season. But how do I keep the traditions I grew up with of baking, frosting, and making a memory for my children while staying healthy? After all, my family doesn’t live in a farming community with workers rotating through 12-hour grueling shifts—we live in Uptown where my kids think walking three blocks to school is hard.
Last Christmas Eve I insisted that we all decorated cookies together; completely ignoring the fact that I seemed to be the only one excited about it. As the sugar cookies cooled down, I brought out every sort of sprinkle and edible decoration we had while my husband and daughters happily played “Candy Land” – it was their clean way or participating in sweet creation, I guess. When I finally wrangled everyone to the table, our little one immediately dumped the sprinkles on her tray, and started to lick her tiny finger and dip it into the sprinkles, a homemade Fun Dip. My older daughter decorated a couple of cookies before asking if she could play. My husband was a good sport and helped me decorate every last one before the icing hardened – I did catch him “quality testing” a few, but he told me it was for safety reasons. The kids were not interested in the overall process. As I cleaned up and put the cookies into trays to bring to co-workers I had to finally admit to myself, I don’t even really like sugar cookies! It was becoming clear some traditions could change if I was willing to let them.
This holiday season we will not bake cookies. Instead, we will go to a bakery and pick out a few things. We will enjoy them on Christmas Eve and play Candy Land and other games afterwards. The cookies won’t be homemade, but the holidays will have homemade fun. While it’s great to honor past traditions, it is also great to make new ones. Homemade or not, we will be together during the holidays, spending time together. Now that is a tradition I will be happy to pass on.