One of the traditions I grew up with and is still a part of my holiday season is baking cookies for Santa. I was about 5 years old the first time I remember baking Santa cookies with my mom. The last time we baked together was the Christmas before she passed away.
Christmas cookie baking day wasn’t just fun over the years, it was the catalyst for a gift of understanding.
You see, my mom and I… well, it wasn’t always easy. I grew up frustrated with the way my mom would state a problem she was grappling with and then worry and angst about it until the end of time.
While she was stuck and seemingly unable to move forward, I would come up with several solutions to the problem, all of which she would dismiss, usually because they didn’t fit her version of “the rules.” As a young adult I decided she was just quirky and probably insecure—because I didn’t know there was an essential difference in our ways of perceiving the world. She was looking for facts that would allow her to move on, and I could see those facts weren’t necessary to start heading in the direction she wanted to go.
That changed a few years after Gary and I developed Perceptual Style Theory, on a day I was visiting with my mom—I was in my late 30s and she was in her mid-60s—and we had decided we were going to spend the day making Christmas cookies together.
Not one kind, but multiple varieties… she wanted to make baskets to give to her friends and I was excited to revisit some old family recipes from my childhood.
In my usual Lynda-Ross way, I sat down, looked through the recipes she had selected and pulled out the one I thought would be fun to make first. (Translation: the one I wanted to eat first.)
Immediately, there was my mom: “No, we can’t do those first. Here are the ones we need to do first”.
“Why not the ones I picked?” I wondered. “Is this just Mom being Mom and you know… there’s some hidden rule about cookies?” I was pretty sure it had to be something like that, so I asked her why.
I never would have guessed. The simplicity of her answer opened a world of understanding for me: “Because the oven has to be at 250° for these and 350° for the ones you picked… and as a matter of fact, for most of the rest of the cookies, too. So, these are always first.”
That’s when it hit me… in her universe, there was an order to baking Christmas cookies. It’s based on logic, and function and facts about things like oven temperature. It’s not about whim, or what looks interesting or what sounds so tasty to go with the morning coffee we had in our hands.
I’m the last person who would have thought you had to follow rules when you were making cookies.
And the hits just kept coming… because then I realized how difficult it must have been for her—a structured person who followed the steps in order—to raise an independent child whose main focus seemed to be breaking rules!
That was when she sat down at the table with me. Ignoring the recipes altogether, we began a conversation unlike any I could remember before that in my life.
She told me that was so proud of me because I took so many risks that she wouldn’t take. And she was so afraid for me because I took so many risks.
Meanwhile, over in my own Perceptual Style universe, I wondered what those risks were—because I never saw them, never felt them, never suffered their ill effects.
It was eye-opening and heart-opening all at once.
That day sticks in my mind because we had an amazing heart-to-heart conversation that literally set the stage for the next 28 years of our lives.
What was especially great was that neither of us changed… we simply gained an appreciation for each other that we had never had before. It explained a lot about our relationship up to that point and pointed to an easier road going forward.
As I mentioned, the last time my mom and I baked Christmas cookies together was 10 years ago. That time we had new helpers – two of my grandkids, ages 3 and 4. As usual, Mom was very organized, and the kids were excited to help and learn the rules. A good time was had by all.
Now there are 5 grandkids who help each year, ranging from 8 to 15. Baking day under my watch is a bit more spontaneous and chaotic. But I still follow Mom’s lead on the mix of recipes, some old standbys and some new. We love the standbys and have gained a few new favorites along with some spectacular failures in the last 10 years!
Baking day makes me smile. I cherish the memories and it warms my heart to see a new generation enjoy the fun and create memories of their own.
So, you can imagine my surprise and delight when I opened a gift on Christmas morning that captures the essence of Santa cookie baking day. A beautiful, hand-painted cookie plate with one of my mom’s favorite cookie recipes captured in the middle, on her original index card, in her handwriting with the butter stains and fingerprints of years of love and use proudly showing. (By the way, this was always recipe #2 on her list because the oven temperature is 300).
I can’t imagine a more perfect symbol of a great family tradition that also holds such special meaning for me. The gift of cookies and the gift of connection – what could be better!
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