Holiday Baking: Lessons I Learned
I not only confess; I proclaim boldly—I don’t like to cook. I can manage my way through most of the traditional holiday meals by sticking with familiar and easy recipes. The baking part of the rituals is beyond me though.
Baking pies, cakes, and cookies to share at a family meal or give as a gift is too stressful for me to consider. These activities were always kept in-house, so to speak. (The story of the derelict gingerbread house I took to a bake sale is too scary to tell.) In spite of my negative attitude toward burning … baking … cookies, our family tried anyway.
As homeschoolers, we … I … do tend to make everything a lesson. Cooking has often been touted as the ultimate math class with a little science thrown in on the side. My kids complained everything was school. I thought fire prevention was lesson enough the day we took on this mission.
One year I almost skipped the annual drudgery. My daughter Elizabeth wanted to attend a holiday seminar being sponsored by our church. I decided it wouldn’t hurt me to learn how to be more elf-like. Yes, I did learn many techniques of bow-making, decorating tips, even the “joy” of making and sending Christmas cards. In spite of my aversions, it was the baking that stuck with me. I learned how to make Nativity Cookies.
Baking lesson one: It’s possible to teach a grumpy baker new tricks.
Not being a holiday kitchen wizard, I had no idea there was such a thing as nativity cookie cutters. The speaker told us how simple it is to share the Gospel with our holiday cookie gifts. Although I still wasn’t up to baking 400 dozen cookies to cart around town, I was interested enough in the concept to listen.
The speaker raved about how easy it was to bake and share these gems. “Start with a simple sugar cookie recipe,” she said. Obviously, this lady had never been victim to the type of baking I do. No cookie is simple, unless someone else is baking it. Every sugar cookie I’ve ever attempted, even the “No-Fail Sugar Cookie” recipes, ends up brown and crispy.
This year I had a willing baker, my daughter. Elizabeth was excited about making at least 200 dozen cookies, and I knew I could successfully fill my role as teacher … errr … helper. I bought the nativity cookie cutters on the speaker’s back table. My daughter started planning baking day.
Baking day came. Of course, because I’m also not a planner, I didn’t think to check the recipe to be sure we had all the ingredients for a dozen cookies, let alone all the dozens Elizabeth wanted to make for relatives, neighbors, friends, the senior home residents, grocery cooks, construction workers on the highway. Oh, the wonderful visions of youth.
Baking lesson two: Read the recipe a few days before wanting to actually burn … cook … the delights.
Once all the supplies had been bought and gathered, the project commenced. I relished the thought of sitting by while Elizabeth flitted around the kitchen measuring here, creaming there, mixing it all together.
The actual baking was planned for the next day because everyone, except me, knows sugar cookie dough should be chilled for at least eight hours before cutting into cute shapes. Eight hours would have started the baking somewhere near 2:30 a.m. I decreed the dough would be fine for a few more hours chilling.
The next day after breakfast, the oven was turned on, and all was prepped for Elizabeth’s day of baking. My younger son, Jack, wanted to cut shapes in the “clay” also. I sat at the table to teach … supervise … knowing the dough could be reshaped by his sister if not to her standards.
Jack randomly picked up cutters and set to work. As younger children do, he began to ask questions. “What’s this?” holding up the manger.
“That’s the manger Baby Jesus was laid in when he was born.”
“Where’s the hay?”
“There isn’t any hay, but here’s Baby Jesus.”
After cutting a couple of mangers and several babies, Jack held up the heart. “Why a heart? It’s Christmas, not Valentine’s Day.”
“Because God loves us so much he allowed Jesus to come to earth as a human baby. He grew up and died for our sins.”
At this point, I’m sure I heard the angel cutter sing to me. This is the gospel in delightful treats. Oh, my, a lesson to be taught!
As Jack and I cut the cookie shapes, I was so excited I joined him. I told him the nativity story. Soon he told it to me.
Angel cookies sang as I realized this experience was more than a baking tradition. This was an opportunity to share God’s gift through a simple cookie. I was nearly ready to move onto 400 dozen cookies. But sanity returned.
Baking lesson three: Look beyond the failures and mess to the joy of the holidays.
The next day we began our writing lesson … card making. Jack and his brother Robert were charged with creating a card with the nativity story to tuck inside each plate of cookies. Robert wrote out the story while Jack drew a picture. The story cards were photocopied. Elizabeth attached them to a ribbon on each cookie package.
Baking lesson four: Yes, everything can be school.
On delivery day, the children took the nativity cookies to the doors of the recipients. Jack delighted in being able to share the story of Baby Jesus all over town. Later in the week, we delivered meals to shut-ins in our community and included a plate of our cookies. The women and men who received the gifts listened carefully as Jack told them about the cookies.
As the years went by, the cookie tradition expanded. Our children memorized various Bible verse to be included in the story telling. Robert, who played Linus in Charlie Brown’s Christmas one year, memorized Luke 2:8-14. Each one of the kids had a part to play in sharing the story.
The nativity story cookies have now been shared and past down to grandchildren. The story of Jesus has also been passed down as well.
Baking lesson five: Simple sugar cookies can have eternal significance.
I too learned a valuable lesson. No matter the state of my cookies, fluffy and white or hard and brown, Christmas baking is about more than dessert. Most people don’t care about cooking ability. They care about the love in the cookie. God doesn’t care about our baking skills or lack thereof. He cares about his story reaching all people. If it takes a burnt and crispy cookie, it doesn’t matter.
Baking lesson six: Holiday baking isn’t about cookies, pies, and cakes. It’s about love.
Nativity cookie cutters are available at many retailers. I like this simple set with the gospel story included. https://amzn.to/35vRdid. Nativity candy molds are also available. https://amzn.to/3f3n9xB
I like this recipe for a sugar-free cookie option.
Susan K. Stewart, Nonfiction Managing Editor with Elk Lake Publishing, teaches, writes, and edits non-fiction. Susan’s passion is to inspire readers with practical, real-world solutions. Her books include Science in the Kitchen, Preschool: At What Cost?, Harried Homeschoolers Handbook, and the award-winning Formatting e-Books for Writers. Her latest book, Donkey Devos: Listening to you donkey when God speaks, is scheduled to be released spring 2021. You can learn more at her website www.practicalinspirations.com.