There are people who appreciate art, and then there are those who want their Christmas cookies decorated simply, with red and green icing and just a hint of snowflake sprinkles. These Holiday Traditionalists seem to feel that theirs should be an unchanging way and that the progress of celebration can just bypass their house. They have no affinity for artistic exploration and no real desire to step outside and try something new.
Tradition? Don’t get me wrong, I’m the one who insists that my brothers and sisters and I still get Easter baskets and that we line up youngest to oldest on the stairs in my parents’ house holding said baskets because, well it’s tradition and you don’t need to reason with tradition. But I’m also a realist, for example my much less careful sister lost her original basket. We didn’t panic or try to recreate that basket; we just got her a new one. She of course ruined that one too so we finally got her one in the shape of the actual Easter Bunny, the one where you put the eggs in his mouth and he giggles while shouting affirmations about the job you are doing finding the eggs. She loves it in all of its cannibalistic-leaning glory. And she’s 36. On the idea of tradition, I stand firm.
That said though I don’t think that tradition should stand in the way of the progress of the celebration of a holiday. The tenants of a tradition can be adjusted to meet the changing years or the celebrant’s artistic expression. This is the philosophical dilemma I enter each Christmas season with – the balance of traditional expectations vs. following my artistic calling. And that is because, where others choose sculpting or watercolors as their medium I tend toward the edible arts inspired by America’s favorite break-in artist – Santa.
It is not, as I am often accused, that I’m out to make light of the Christmas cookie. It’s my second favorite member of the cookie family, behind the Nutter Butter. The Christmas cookie is the ambassador of the season, it crosses religious beliefs and cultural lines as it says “Hey we’re all stuck in the middle of winter together, have a smile.” I see so much potential in those thirty cutout reindeer lying on the cooling rack, that I cannot, in good faith, not express my artistic impulses.
It is this spirit that I bring to my In-Laws kitchen each year on what is most certain to be the greyest Saturday invented for a December. We come together – my wife, her parents, two sisters, and brother, plus the assorted spouses or that year’s model of girlfriend/boyfriend, everyone’schildren, and Murray, who is related in one of those fuzzy sorts of ways.
Same day, same plan every year –make enough cookies for each person to leave with the guarantee of adding 5 pounds to their holiday weight gain total while also increasing the overall stress of the season by an percent exponential to the number of people crammed into that kitchen.
There are certain rules to be followed at the Annual Holiday Cookie Bakeoff (And subsequent “I Never Got What I Really Wanted for Christmas Because of You” session that occurs immediately following in the driveway):
- Don’t enter the kitchen without a specific purpose;
- You may not turn off the Christmas music;
- Aprons are not an option;
- No wrestling in the Santa suit (Just a note – this last rule pre-dates my involvement in this event).
The cookie making process happens in stages – first, all of the cookies are cut and baked and then the decorating stage starts. It is in this second stage where the trouble begins. At first everyone is equally engaged in the marriage of sugar frosting to cookie but inevitably people fall off. Since I have been relatively “unhelpful” (not my words) up to this point in the day, and because my father passed onto me a strong work ethic (along with early baldness and difficulty in pronouncing the word “Silkily”,) I feel obligated to do my part by plying away at the icing table. I keep things pretty straight for a while because I know that people enjoy a certain amount of tradition, I’m right there.
But after three dozen cookies, and a healthy few glasses of Egg Nog from the container left out right next to an overworked stove, my muse strikes me. I am inspired with a desire to push the art of cookie decoration forward and I cannot contain myself as the icing and sprinkles flow from my fingertips as if I was channeling some long dead Renaissance master. The head shakes and words of holiday-themed mockery that follow each iced unveiling hold a misunderstanding and disinclination towards the arts. Where I see a creative expression in Santa in a tie-dyed suit, others see a sad sacrilege. There’s a fear that the shunning will start if a neighbor is offered an all brown Christmas Tree cookie that explores man’s role in Global Warming or that rioting will occur when people bite into the Snowman cookie titled Yellow Snow in the Morning…. Like many other artists I’m misunderstood; people mistake creativity and a fresh holiday perspective with a desire to be controversial or to try and get out of work. They miss the point though, I’m taking the tradition and making it my own.
I’ll continue honing my art until appreciation is there for the Pointillism-inspired Poinsettia Leaf, my exploration of the forgotten Zippy the Zebra Striped Reindeer or this year’s sure hit, The Headless Gingerbread Man.