As a little girl, I enthusiastically anticipated the annual Christmas cookie-making frenzy. Grandma Draeger started it all (apparently) offering up countless variations for the holidays, from almond crescents rolled in powdered sugar to walnut thumbprints, one could never get enough. My personal favorite was the tiny green Christmas trees squished out of tube and baked to a light, crispy texture (brown around the edges was perfect, in my eyes). My mom and her four sisters really got into the Christmas "Cookie Swap," which involved each one bringing an array of her cookies and exchanging them for the same number of a different kind from each of the others. This way, you only had to make 12 varieties to end up with 24 different kinds of cookies (I'm kidding! Do people really do that?!)
While I loved the cookies, for some reason I never wanted to do the work of making Christmas cookies. Don't get me wrong; I'm not a terrible mother. I actually have made cut-outs with the kids a few times. (I didn't want them traumatized, for crying out loud!) And I did try my hand at fudge. We even pulled taffy once. However, I just don't care enough about eating the cookies (and gaining holiday pounds), so I don't go to the trouble. Everyone else seems to like giving their cookies up (works for me!) Have you ever heard someone say, "Hey, I brought cookies. Where are yours?!" On the contrary, they say, "PLEASE--Eat these, before I turn into a cow!" The way I see it, I'm helping out by not contributing to anyone's cottage-cheese butt.
Mom was always really into the swap, though, and after her sisters and mother either passed away or moved away, she had only her daughters on whom to bestow the tradition. The three of us here obliged, but over time, it began to seem less like fun and more like a chore, especially because mom treated the swap like a baby shower and made us play games like bingo and stuff before we could trade. (Again, another blog all in itself.)
A couple of years ago, I came up with a better idea. We started a "Soup Swap," instead. Each of us makes a huge batch of soup (chili, stew, homemade vegetable. or whatever) and divides it into several storage containers. Then, we meet for lunch (at restaurant, of course), bringing the soup. After lunch, we trade soups and recipes. Then, it's back home to the freezer and kicking back until the soup mood strikes you (or you get the flu, God forbid!).
Now, I look forward to the annual Soup Swap. And when I eat a bowl of Mom's homemade chicken noodle soup or Mary's tortilla chowder, instead of thinking about gaining weight, I think of the love and care that went into the soup, how it takes the chill out of my bones on a cold January night, and how I didn't have to work real hard to get the payoff. In the end, it's really not the cookies that we love (okay, maybe a little). It's the food, yes. But it's also the labor of love, and the tradition that creates unity and makes us a family. And I wouldn't swap that for anything.
[originally posted November 2007, but I thought it was worth a second pass :)]