Friday, May 18, 2007

Christmas Eve in the Neighborhood

As I've mentioned before, a few years ago I compiled a book of Christmas memories for my family. Someday when I have the time, I'll share just how I did this in case others would like to do the same. But for today, I'll just share one section of my childhood memories here. I've titled it


As Christmas approached, my mother enlisted the help of us kids in
baking dozens of festive cookies. There were white-frosted brownies
decorated with candied-cherry poinsettias, gingery molasses crinkles
sparkling with red and green sugar, crunchy oatmeal cookies filled with
dates and walnuts and topped off with cherries. I clearly remember
cutting up dates for these -- I don't suppose there were ready-chopped
dates available in those days, and they would have been expensive. I
remember turning the handle of a nut chopper to chop the walnuts, and
pressing the cookies down with a floury glass before topping them with
half of a candied cherry. Sometimes we made mincemeat squares, with the
mincemeat filling sandwiched between two layers of a brown-sugary
crust. Our beloved "chocolate spritz" cookies were not made with a
cookie press, but formed into small round balls and dipped in
multicolored candy sprinkles before baking. We always made, in
addition, cut-out cookies of nutmeg-flavored dough rolled thin, cut in
various shapes and trimmed with raisins, silver dragees, and colored
sprinkles. Mom would often make the cookie doughs ahead and store them
in the cold front entry. It wouldn't be considered safe or healthy
today, but we loved tasting the dough. The chilled dough for the
chocolate spritz tasted exactly like chocolate ice cream.

My mother also baked loaves of cinnamon-swirled white bread and dressed
them up with a drizzle of white frosting and decorations of candied
cherries and sliced almonds. They looked beautiful and smelled even

On Christmas Eve or a few nights before, Santa and his sleigh had
nothing on my dad, us kids, and the family station wagon. We were out
making holiday deliveries of our own. All of us would beg for the
privilege of accompanying Dad on his appointed rounds. We would drive
around the neighborhood, delivering cookies and visiting for a while at
each house. I remember that during the day a tray of treats would be
delivered to our family doctor. But in the evening Dad would go out
with the goodies for the neighbors and nearby relatives.

One of my favorite stops was at the Geisslers'. They were a German family who
lived in the neighborhood. They owned a local business, but they
also had hens, and Mr. Geissler had an egg route. We were among his
customers. It was my first inkling of a couple of things -- one, that
there were people actually living in our town who did not have a
traditional New England background like ours; and two, that everyone has
a different dimension to them that the average person might not be aware
of. Until I visited the Geisslers' home with Dad, I saw Mr. Geissler as sort of a peddler -- "the egg man", as we called him. Imagine my surprise that their home was very nice -- nicer than ours. When we went there with the goodies on Christmas Eve, they would invite us in and bring out eggnog for Dad and glasses of icy ginger ale for us kids. I remember being wide-eyed at their tree and noticing shopping bags full of gifts from fancy New York City stores. I'm not sure if they were gifts from faraway relatives, or gifts from the family to one another. Even the bags and boxes were impressive, however! I would try and make the ginger ale last as long as possible so I could keep looking around at everything.

Mrs. Geissler would always send Christmas cookies to our house, too, usually dropped off along with the eggs. My mother kept them in a certain cupboard, and that cupboard always retained a festive, spicy aroma for as long as the cookies lasted. I remember one kind of cookie in particular -- looking back on it now, I think it must have been pfefferneuse. They were perfectly round, dark-colored cookies which were liberally coated in confectioners' sugar. They smelled and looked absolutely wonderful. Unfortunately, anise is a flavor I still haven't acquired a taste for! But having those truly German cookies in our very American kitchen sure broadened our horizons.

When I was a child, this sharing of holiday treats was one of the most meaningful parts of our Christmas. It made a big impression on me that at this busy time of the year, my parents took the time and went to the effort to do something special for their neighbors.

1 comment:

  1. What a wonderful memory, Mrs. T! I adore Christmas, and have fond memories of the holiday from my younger years. :) I hope to instill in my young daughter many of these types of traditions - reaching out to neighbors, getting to know one another! Especially so as we look to move to a new state.... do you know that when we bought our house here almost 4 years ago that NO ONE brought a welcome gift?! Not that it is a requirement, certainly, but these kinds of traditions are lost on the world today. I hope to reinstate this and other traditions (like yours!) in our young family. :)
    Blessings to you as you enjoy this wonderful season!


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