I baked with my two older grandchildren before Christmas. Because that’s what Grandmas in my family do. It’s tradition – those activities that bind us as family, and connect us to our past, to a place or to a people. I baked Christmas cookies with my Grandma Schmitt. She had a complete set of nativity cutters and every year I tried to paint them all with her egg yolk paints. This past year for our Polish Wigilia, dessert was light fare, everyone brought cookies. Much of our dinner conversation centered around memories of my children baking cookies and making hard tack candy with my Mom, their Grandma Gret. My daughter brought four flavors of hard tack she made, and gingersnaps.
Which brings me to Nana Kim’s epic gingerbread house fail. I have this great clay mold from Longaberger Baskets, the Ohio-based company famous for their baskets and basket-shaped corporate office. The mold holds various shapes, the main ones are the three for the house: a front/back panel, gabled side, and roof. Two cookies of each glued together with icing, form the house.
The plan was to bake and assemble the houses the day before the grands came, so they’d be set and ready to decorate. Everything was going great at midnight when I was baking them. Even a last minute addition of a third decorator, a friend’s granddaughter, didn’t pose a problem. I squeezed three houses out of one batch of dough. The next morning the sides went together beautifully . . . with minimal mess. It was later when I went to add the roof pieces that I realized I’d once again SCREWED THEM UP!
The gabled ends are supposed to be on the inside of the front and back pieces. I’d abutted them to the outer edge. That left a 1/2 inch gap where the roof had nowhere to attach. I laid one roof tile across each house, making a flat roof and leaving the gabled ends sticking up, looking goofy. My grands took one look and said, ‘Maybe a hurricane came and knocked the roof down. Now it’s an extra sitting place.’ And that was that. They proceeded to decorate the new sitting place with gumdrop benches and M&M radios.
That’s another thing about traditions. Sometimes they have to be adjusted. That can be especially hard with holidays.
A couple years ago we had to decide what to do with the Wigilia, the traditional Polish Christmas Eve dinner, with specific customs and foods. Something hubby had participated in since he was a boy. While his mom was still alive, we traveled to Cleveland some years to celebrate with his family. When we didn’t travel we made the meal at home. But it wasn’t the same. One son worked retail and was never home. Other commitments kept others away. As sons married and other traditions blended with ours, celebrating became tougher. Instead of abandoning it altogether, we looked at what elements were important and how best to keep them. Those elements were the sharing of opatki, a wafer that is broken and shared while exchanging blessings, the foods, and having as many there as possible. Having the feast on Christmas Eve wasn’t the main thing. Now we have it the Saturday before Christmas.
And we may be adding a new tradition. Last year I told my grands the story of the Christmas Spider – not the one from the post about the lights, an actual folktale about why there’s tinsel on the Christmas tree. We made spiders from jingle bells as decorations for the table and after dinner hung them on the tinsel-less tree. The next morning I heard their running, sudden stop when they saw the now glistening tree, and then the soft intake of breath, ‘Oh!’ It was one of those hushed moments of wow. Then, ‘Nana Kim! Come see!!’
This year the first thing they did was rush to the tree to see if the spiders had come.
In the coming year, may all our traditions – old and new, holiday and non – work their magic. Bind us as family, connect us to the people and places we love.