Wednesday, December 2, 2009

If you give a mouse a cookie

This year, I'll be spending Christmas without my family for the first time. When I initially made the decision to stay in the city, I embraced the opportunity as a way to confirm my newfound, recent-graduate independence. My brother could easily shake off family Christmas traditions, so why couldn't I?

But, as I started to make plans for a celebration among friends in New York City, I took a moment to consider if I might be missing out on anything. Santa's been out of the picture for a while - it was a snowmobile accident, I was told - , and, as a child of divorce, I haven't spent a Christmas with all members of my immediate family since the early 2000s. I've celebrated the holidays with my uncle's family in Germany a couple of times, and those have certainly been the most memorable in recent years, but I haven't been there enough to consider it tradition. So, I decided, I wasn't really missing out on anything by celebrating in Manhattan. I'll fly to California in February, I thought, and spend time with my family when the flights are cheaper.

But then it hit me, as I was perusing my recipe binder two days before Thanksgiving. The one tradition that's actually been passed down through several generations in my mother's family: the plaetzchen. These German Christmas cookies - and yes, they actually have a separate word for them - are a staple of the advent season. They are generally baked in November, in massive quantities, by wholesome German families gathered together around the fire, drinking mulled wine, and singing O Tanenbaum in perfect harmony. Ok, well maybe they don't always sing, but my 28 year old cousin and his wife
did drive over two hours to my uncle's house this year just to engage in the ritual.

Since I can first remember, my uncle has sent my mother (and thereby me and my brother) a tin of these homemade cookies every year at Christmastime. We generally devour them within hours, while opening our presents by the tree. By the time we get to them, they're usually broken and crumb-y from the long haul over the Atlantic, but that doesn't stop us from fighting over the last bits of our favorite ones (they're dipped in chocolate).

The recipes are so important to my uncle that he's even spent time teaching me how to bake the cookies during my visits to his house in the summer. My cousins had a difficult time understanding the smell of Christmas in July, but we assured them it was all in the name of family tradition. Yes, you're confused, I'm encroaching on your memories . . . have a cookie?

But this year, as I was preparing for the first of the great holiday meals, it dawned on me that I would not be able to savor even one almond-y, chocolate-y Spritzgebaeck cookie on Christmas Eve without flying to San Diego first. My heart sank at the first thought of it. I quickly abandoned the idea of baking my own when I remembered that I don't even have half of the proper equipment to press out the cookie form, and I knew better than to ask my mom to send me some of hers.

So, after much deliberation, I cast aside my long-standing fear of stern German men and sent my uncle a plaintive email, expounding on my love for his cookies and my need to feel at least some family connection at Christmas this year. For some reason, I was expecting a curt response - again, I inexplicably fear the silent wrath of older Germans -, and resigned myself to a plaetzchen-less holiday season.

But, my loving uncle has hinted that he might, in fact, be sending me my own tin of cookies his year. Christmas will remain a plaetzchen-ful occasion. Huzzah! And my happiness is once again secured through food.

Now, if I can only find a Chrismukkah bush and that gospel copy of the Messiah...

No comments:

Post a Comment