Christmas comes with its usual traditions, none so urgent in our family as making sure that all the cookies we usually bake are ready. Originally that was Nana's job, one she loved and guarded jealously. I'd handle the other, less important things such as decorating the house, putting out Christmas towels, putting up the tree and directing the placement of the indoor and outdoor lighting.
When Nana's medieval cookie press became too hard for her increasingly arthritic hands to handle, it was time for me to help with the baking. Under no circumstances did that give me any right to do anything even vaguely associated with the baking of the cookies any differently than Nana had always done it. The spritz cookies that called for ground almonds would be made with ground walnuts since almonds were much too expensive, back in 1952. And we most certainly could NOT buy already ground walnuts; we'd buy them in the shell, and sit there days ahead of time using the ancient finger-crippling nutcracker to open each one, diligently dig out the meat and finally put it through the nutgrinder you had to clamp onto the edge of a chair, using child labor to crank the handle while feeding in the nuts one handful at a time. And so our cookie baking traditions remained unchanged for, almost, ever.
I've finally started making a few changes, not to break tradition, but to ensure we'd actually have cookies ready, on time, for Christmas. The cookie baking process had slowed to a crawl while I watched Nana struggle with every little thing. When actually finding the ingredients I had carefully arranged on the counter became a chore, it was time to step in.
I'd sneak in a batch while Nana was crawling through her list of Christmas cards, eliminating those Scrooges who hadn't bothered to write back in response to hers last year. I'd bake once she'd gone to bed, praying the smoke detector wouldn't go off and send everyone scrambling when I burnt the odd tray. And I'd have her dot the Raspberry Nut Balls with jam once they'd come out of the oven.
I've survived another Cookie Baking Season having bypassed potentially hurt feelings and indicators of inadequacy. I've deviously started using pre-ground nuts, any kinds I want, to bake the Spritz cookies. I've discovered that my food processor can get the walnuts that go around the Raspberry Nut Balls chopped to just the right size, no cutting board or butcher knife required, entirely eliminating the need to vacuum the kitchen post-chopping to gather up all the nuts that went flying during this hateful chore. And who knew my beloved stand mixer could churn out the most beautifully perfect dough for each and every recipe. I'll bet I could teach it to use a rolling pin for when I make the cut-out cookies if I tried hard enough.
Now when Nana asks if 'we're' making the same cookies we make every year, I can confidently say 'of course 'WE' are, Nana', and happily task her with sampling what 'we've' baked, so that she's still involved, just like always.
Now if only we could find a way to keep the tree from falling, the way it does every year at Christmas. Ah, traditions! Gotta love 'em.