(by Mandy Dokie)
There is nothing like the smell of sugar cookies baking to bring me right back to childhood: I’m six years old, patiently waiting for Mom to bring my brother and me the giant ball of dough to roll out. My long brown hair is tied back in a braid, and I’m rocking a Ninja Turtle sweatshirt spotted with flour. Flour had to be on the table, on my pants, and my nose. If I didn’t have flour on me somewhere, was it even baking?
“Wait! We forgot our music!” Mom would yell from the kitchen. Music was a must. Baking Christmas sugar cookies was not complete without Nat King Cole singing "Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire" in the background. The rules were simple: Mix the ingredients, roll out the dough, and bake more dough than you eat. That last part was always a little hard for us.
A vast array of cookie cutters sat in a large bowl on the table—the same cookie cutters that my mom used with her mom and sisters at Christmas time. Our eyes were as big as the cookies while we watched our creations come out of the oven. A star, a tree, a stocking, a candy cane, Santa, Christmas bulbs and bells were all cut out and frosted with care. Some sprinkles here, a dab of frosting there. The quality of our frosting job went down a little as the day went on, but each one was special in its own way. When the cookies were done and the perfect one for Santa was chosen, we were fully in the Christmas spirit.
I decided that when I became a mother, I would pass along this tradition, and that’s exactly what I did.
Now a six-year-old girl, the spitting image of me with her hair tied back in a braid, and a nine-year-old boy full of spirit look forward to our annual Christmas cookie baking with my mom, known to them as Yaya. (She wanted to be called Grammy, but my son had other ideas at the age of two.) Memories of my brother and me flood back as I watch them laughing and sneaking dough. We still bust out the VHS tapes and laugh until we cry at the silly things we said, the crazy faces that we made, and the moments that belong only to our little family. My kids love to ask Yaya if their mom and Uncle Matt did this-or-that while they baked cookies too. With a devilish grin, my mom spills the beans about our antics, with every detail like it happened yesterday.
(Rylan, Keira, and Yaya)
My mom and I have always been close, and now that she is the Yaya to my kids, our bond is stronger than ever. I think our time together as three generations of our family is especially meaningful to me because I never had the pleasure of meeting either of my grandmothers. My maternal grandmother died when my mother was 18 years old, and I feel like our sugar cookie tradition keeps her with us. I’m not sure if she would have been the original “Yaya.” My great-grandparents were immigrants from Germany who came to the United States via Ellis Island. I would have loved to have heard some of their experiences and eaten some of their special food. Even though my children may not know it now, one day they will realize how truly blessed they are to have a Yaya who loves them as much as theirs does.
Now every Christmas season, on my kitchen counter sits a special rolling pin that was a gift from my mom, and a bowl of the same cookie cutters spanning four generations.
“Wait, we forgot our music!” But now that’s me yelling as the kids scramble to find the best holiday jam on YouTube.
Although the pandemic has meant that we have not been able to keep with all of our traditions, our family is tighter than ever. The grandparents are still with us in our activities every step of the way via Zoom or Facebook. They completely understand the precautions for the safety of our families. As things slowly start to open up, more opportunities for memories will be available.
Now we have even incorporated our cookies into an annual Halloween tradition as well. Same rules apply; just instead of Nat King Cole in the background, it is Bobby Pickett singing “The Monster Mash.”
I pray that the fun memories of making cookies with their Mom and Yaya will stay with my kids when we are gone, and that they will pass on not only the recipe but the love and laughter.
Mandy Dokie was born and raised in the high desert. She has a degree in psychology from University of California Riverside, and is the author of the children's book Luffle McScruffle. She can be found on Facebook.
Christmas Sugar Cookies 8 T. unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 large egg
1 c. sugar
1 t. vanilla extract optional: 1 t. fresh lemon juice or zest of 1 lemon
2 c. sifted all-purpose flour 1/4 t. salt 1/2 t. baking powder
Preheat oven to 350 F.
In bowl of an electric mixer, beat together softened butter, egg, vanilla, and sugar.
Add optional lemon or lemon zest.
In another bowl, mix flour, salt, and baking powder.
With paddle attachment of mixer on low speed, combine dry ingredients with butter mixture a little at a time.
Form dough into a ball, and divide into quarters.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out each section of dough about 1/3 in. thick. Flour cookie cutters and cut out desired shapes.
If dough seems too soft, refrigerate for 10 - 15 minutes.
Place cookies about an inch apart on a greased or parchment-lined cookie sheet.
Bake for 8 - 10 minutes until lightly browned.
Cool on a rack and decorate as you like with frosting and sprinkles.