Monday, December 5, 2011

Gingerbread Man Melt Down

It's been our tradition for nearly ten years to eat gingerbread men while we decorate the Christmas tree.  It started the year Michael was born. For the first time since Jon and I were married, we had not made plans to travel to Canada since my due date was December 21. It was also the first year Jon and I had ever spent away from our extended family for the holidays, and it turned out to be so memorable: Our first Christmas as our own distinct little family unit.

Just a few weeks prior, during my eighth month of pregnancy, we had moved from a rough neighborhood where we regularly witnessed drive-by shootings from our kitchen window. Our new monthly rent was much more, Jon was still a full-time student earning a small salary, and we didn't have much money to spend on Christmas fluff. IKEA had an offer going: Buy a $20 tree, and receive a $20 coupon to their store. That worked for us. I spent a few dollars at Wal-Mart and bought a couple boxes of silver ornaments in various sizes and small red ornaments, along with a couple strands of white lights.

This was fine and all, except that once the tree was up and decorated, it looked so ordinary. It needed a little more personality. So I decided to bake and decorate little gingerbread men and hang them on the tree with a little ribbon. The house smelled wonderful, as I was still trying to get rid of that new rental smell, and our tree had a little more character. It was our first Christmas tree and it filled our empty little apartment beautifully.

The next year our tree went up with the same decorations, including more gingerbread men. That year, however, with a two year old girl, and a one year old boy, those little gingerbread men did not stay intact very long. First the arms and legs were discretely nibbled off, then I'd discover only a head hanging, or even a piece of ribbon with globs of chewed cookie. But over the years, as our decorations have become a little more sophisticated (or normal), our gingerbread man cookie tradition has persisted. I don't decorated the tree with them, but we always have a plate of freshly baked men to munch on as the tree gets decorated. The kids expect it, and I love everything about this tradition-- the smell, the taste, and cozy feeling-- and it's roots in our family's history.

Fast forward a little bit. This summer, when I had begun the process of packing up for our move, we had put an offer in for a house I expected we were to move into. Because of the timing, I knew there might be a transition time between houses. So non-essentials were packed up to be stored. In the summer, cookie cutters were non-essentials.

So the other day, I searched and searched for my little gingerbread man cookie cutter in the garage. We have boxes piled up to the ceiling, and though I tried to specifically label boxes, I simply could not find the right box among those I could access.

I was upset and I wanted to cry. Embarrassing, I know, but it was the culmination of a number of things in my day. The kids were playing well with each other in the house, waiting for me to bake with them; I sat in the car in the dark garage and had a little pity party. I grumbled in my heart about all the inconveniences of not having the things I want for the holidays, about the fact that I don't have enough mugs or serving dishes or even extra sheets to host family coming for Christmas, and so on. None of it is a big deal, but it felt like it at that moment. (Note to family... In case you're wondering, I'm totally happy you're coming!)

I sat there for a bit, prayed, and re-entered the house with a more flexible approach. We proceeded with our plans, only altering them a bit. Olivia had been given a horse cookie cutter, which we used instead, and the cookies tasted just as good. Maybe this year will be the year that I upgrade that cheap old, slightly rusted gingerbread man cutter, because I fully intend on continuing this tradition. This year's episode will become part of the story as well.

(The original red and silver balls now fill a hurricane and sit on the armoire.)

(An ornament for baby Michael from Jon's Aunt Heather)

Most importantly, the inconveniences of this year, the fact that things are as they are, is a good reminder for me that Christmas is certainly not about tradition or decorations. It is about a Person. I've been letting all the fluff take priority, and I want to get back to what is real and eternal. Jesus.



  1. and I am so very certain....EVERYTHING....will be as lovely and homey as always.So looking forward to seeing everyone.Love,Carol

  2. love the decorations and the tradition. I can relate to wanting everything perfect and getting so caught up in it that I miss the whole point. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Thanks for Sharing your heart! It is so easy to get caught up and not remember the real reason we celebrate! The Manger made a way for the Cross.. Love the Ginger bread man tradition. We might have to start that next year. Do you have a good recipie for Gingerbread?

  4. I had just bought "Joy of Cooking" because it seemed like an all-American cookbook, and I had nothing like it. I was trying to establish myself at that point, accepting that we'd be in the US for a while (if not long-term). The recipe is from that book; it's a low-fat version that worked well on the tree because the cookie hardened like an ornament. Still use the same recipe, doubling and freezing the dough for an easy activity with the kids.


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