Cookie Monsters

The kitchen air is alive with flour, fragrant with butter and chocolate. Carol and I are chopping hazelnuts and pressing out cookies while our three kids, all toddlers, hinder and help. We’re making Spritzgebachnis, one of my grandmother’s German family recipes, and Danish butter cookies, her specialty. My daughter Brook is only four, and I have no idea that two decades later, she and I will still be in the kitchen on chilly December afternoons making Christmas cookies together.

And right there you have it: the secret of the best traditions. They don’t start out earmarked as such, repeated annually because you’re supposed to. No, the beloved ones establish their own momentum, recur and evolve based on the power of the experience itself. In our case, the driving force was Brook, who began begging to make cookies on Thanksgiving day, and pored over cookbooks to add new recipes, expanding our repertoire to a dozen last year. In the early days, her small, clumsy hands made shaping delicate crescents so frustrating, we’d both end up in tears. I’d vow “never again,” but as soon as the first serious frost decorated our lawn with a spun-sugar glaze, Brook would start talking about the cookies. “We’ve got to make them,” she’d say.  “It’s a tradition!”  And so we did.

When she went away to college, I figured the cookies would become a casualty of her growing up. Maybe I’d just whip up a recipe or two by myself. But despite parties and papers and exams, she always made it home for one cookie-crazed weekend in early December. Those long cinnamon-scented afternoons were a cherished window into her new independent life; I’d hear about crushes and spats, the classes she was taking, the sports she played. These days, she’s got a job and an apartment in a big city 50 miles from our home, and I know I can count on an e-mail around Thanksgiving organizing a weekend we’ll both be free. And on some future December day, just maybe, there will be a new set of small, clumsy hands, and Brook will understand how important this tradition she invented is to me.

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