Monday, December 7, 2009

Peace, Love, and Gingerbread

True confession: I don’t like Christmas much. I don’t like the music. I don’t like the decorations, or Salvation Army bell ringing, or cards. I don’t like shopping. I don’t like how the presumption of Christianity blots out other perspectives at this time of year. I don’t like how it all happens against a deepening backdrop of cold weather and dark skies; or how in January, all the lights will fade and I will feel abandoned to a bleak winter without even the respite of Christmas’s unwelcome distractions.

One thing that keeps me peaceful at Christmastime is gingerbread. I love the alchemic ritual of boiling molasses, sugar, and fat. I love perfuming the flour with splashes of dark, sweet cinnamon and sharp, warm ginger. I love the surface of the rolled-out dough, smooth and cold like black marble. I love my cookie cutters—those old friends I see just once a year. Tin ones from Mom that we used when I was little. Plastic ones that I bought for myself as a young adult, an act of self-assertion for my first holiday on my own.

In those days, I was slowly realizing that I can define this season however I want. I don’t have to be in the office gift exchange. I don’t have to decorate a tree or send cards. I don’t have to let someone else tell me how and when to give. And I can leave all these things behind without losing what’s important: warmth. Light. Faith that, even in the looming darkness of winter, there are human connections to be made. There are cookies to be baked.

I love to decorate each cookie shape in a particular way. The stars and bells get red sugar sprinkles. The trees and holly leaves get green. The dreidls and stars of David get blue sprinkles. The blue cookies are for friends whose philosophies get crowded out this time of year. I want to say to them, “True, this cookie exists because of Christmas. But I know you don’t ride that train, and I see you.” And really, when I bake gingerbread, that’s what I’m saying to, and for, myself.

Gingerbread Molasses Cutouts
Makes 7 or 8 dozen cookies, each 2 or 3 inches across. The great thing about this recipe is how many times you can roll and re-roll it. You can keep cutting out cookies until the dough ball is too small to make a single ‘nother one.

1 c shortening
1 c molasses
1 c sugar
1 c vinegar
2 eggs
6 c flour
½ t baking powder
½ t salt
1 t baking soda
1 T ginger
1 t cinnamon

Combine shortening, molasses, sugar, and vinegar in a large saucepan. Heat, stirring constantly, and bring to a rolling boil. Cook 2 minutes. Remove from heat and cool. Add the two beaten eggs.

Sift, mix, or whisk all the dry ingredients together. Combine the wet and dry ingredients and mix well. Roll the dough into a ball and chill it well. Overnight will do it.

On a floured board, bench, or countertop, roll the dough ⅛ to ¼ inch thick. Cut out shapes. Decorate them with colored sugar, currants, and small candies as desired. Bake on greased or nonstick cookie sheets 6 to 9 minutes at 375°.

Use your cookies to celebrate—or not—however you want. But I do hope they'll make you happy this season.


  1. I could not agree with you more on Christmas. I start dreading it in October, and I rejoice on the second of January, when it's all over with.

    But I'm pro-cookie at any time of the year, so I'm totally trying this recipe.

  2. Can I come bake cookies with you? It looks fun and festive, and since I am neither in an office with co-workers nor a Christian religion, I have no one to share with. Yum!!!

  3. Kerry, yay! Make the cookies! You will not be sorry. Maybe you can cut them into little Clue Wagon shapes to match your icon.

    Deb, we'll talk. You definitely need one of the dreidl cookies. xoxo


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