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The Holiday Tradition That My Nana Passed Onto Me

Her signature baking ritual taught me the importance of culture, family, and belonging.

Shutterstock
Shutterstock

Being merry and bright during the holiday season can be a little more difficult for those of us who are no longer able to celebrate with loved ones. Every year, my heart is just a little heavier, remembering those who instilled in me the meaningful traditions, values, and celebrations — specifically, my Nana.

I grew up in a traditional European family. My grandmother was French and German and my grandfather was English, so my favorite childhood treat was a slice of cheddar over a piece of apple pie. We always had to warm it up before taking the first bite. Needless to say, good food was part of our heritage.

I have many fond memories of my grandmother baking cookies every holiday season. It was her favorite tradition, and we did it as a team. I still have an old file filled with handwritten recipe cards, and when I read them, my Nana’s writing comes to life on paper. We used to spend hours in the kitchen — surrounded by a mixing bowls, boards dusted with flour, rolling pins, bowls of softened butter, and a glass of ice water — to keep her fork that she used to make “x’s” on the cookies from sticking in the dough. Her shortbread cookies were her staple. They were made from real, wholesome ingredients, and were always made from scratch. There were no pre-made batches in our house. We also made chocolate chip, Rugelach, rum balls, Butter, and Pfeffernüsse; along with homemade fudge and peanut butter cookies that were stored in holiday tins. I was always so happy to be given the prestige position of lifting the cookies off the tray once they had cooled. I was honored to partake in my Nana’s signature holiday baking ritual.

Today, I try to recreate that magic every year. Now, I am single, and I don’t really have family around to celebrate with during the holidays. But still, each year, I lovingly pull out those old recipes between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, and I get transported back to the days when I was a young girl sitting at the kitchen table, rolling out dough, with the voices of my Mother, Aunt and Nana happily chatting in the background. This was our family; this was our tradition. I carefully gather the ingredients, take out the wax paper, reach for the powdered sugar, and take a small doily to make the design on top. I still hear her voice telling me, “A little of this, a dash of that.” I pour the fudge mixture together into a pan and chill just the way I was taught. I taste the batter, and it tastes like a slice of heaven. I even knock on my neighbor’s door with a holiday tin filled to share the traditional cookies with them.

My grandmother’s cookies remind me of the power of family. She instilled in me the values of belonging, love, laughter, and the importance of celebrating one’s culture — who we are at our core. Today, I love to listen to the stories that other people share about their own cultural rituals. I sometimes think it’s the reason I became a writer. It is my way of sharing their stories, giving back, and spreading love to those closed to me. This is what I try to pass on.

This article was written in part from Medium and is dedicated to families everywhere.

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