Monday, December 7, 2009

We did something different for the holidays this year. My extended family (parents, siblings with spouses, nieces and nephews with spouses or dates, even dogs) gathered at my sister's house for a holiday celebration - earlier than usual this year due to one person's work schedule. Generally we draw names from a hat in November and bring a gift for just that person. Then we also bring small gifts to tuck into stockings, although last year I brought collapsible camp chairs, which definitely did not fit into stockings.

Lately the quantity of stocking stuffers grew until we were back to the chaos of too many gifts to appreciate, and escalating costs for people who were struggling to make ends meet due to layoffs. So this year, we skipped the gift exchange and went for cookies instead.

Each family brought four dozen of a single kind of homemade holiday cookie. We arranged them on platters and then "shopped" from each others' offerings, filling our containers with a yummy assortment of goodies that we could then share in our homes or other holiday gatherings throughout the season.

It was fun - there were sugar cookies decorated with royal icing, "magic" cookie bars, oatmeal cookies with red and green M&Ms, peanut butter cup kisses, Kris Kringles with bits of candied cherries in the center, chocolate chocolate chip cookies, and stained glass cookies, with little heart-shaped windows made of melted Lifesavors candies. Oh, and there was fudge - technically not a cookie, but delicious all the same.

Here are some things I learned: we miss the point of Christmas or Hanukkah when we focus on gifts; my family are very competitive and there was whining about who did and did not "win" some prize ribbons provided by my niece; and we love to cook and to eat (big surprise).

We also gave a few gifts: three family members have birthdays within a week of the celebration, so we sang "Happy birthday," shared a huge cake ("three layers of chaos!") with super sweet frosting, and gave gifts. We had music, too - holiday songs and jazz, keyboarding provided by my dad and nephew, vocals by my mom and me.

When we left with full bellies, groaning about the condition of our tummies, we were happy and satisfied. And now we have a new holiday tradition - the cookie exchange - and will forgo gifting until the next generation of babies comes along. The holidays have evolved from object-obsession to gathering, talking, hugging, singing, laughing and eating together - accent on the "together." May your holidays be as cheerful and joyful as can be.

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