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How the Christmas cookie crumbles

HAMBURG —My family has a lot of holiday traditions. For the most part, our holiday to-do list runs toward the typical. My dad and little brother decorate the house on the day after Thanksgiving while my mom, cousin and I brave the crowds to go shopping. We bake cookies, decorate a Christmas tree and the mantelpiece. On the big day, we eat dinner and open presents and all that jazz. But a discussion my family and I had the other day made me wonder: Why do we do what we do, and at what cost?

For example: every year, I end up baking four or five types of cookies. It’s not that I don’t enjoy it. There’s something cathartic about dragging out the old Kitchenaid and firing up batches of chocolate crinkles, peanut butter blossoms and the cream cheese cut-out recipe my great-grandmother wrote in her spidery handwriting. It requires “enough flour to make it roll right.” I’m convinced grandma wrote it deliberately vague, so no one would ever be able to replicate it. She also may have been a spy.

But here’s the thing about that tradition. Last year, the season was so hectic, we didn’t end up making them until Christmas Eve. So there we were, tracking Santa on the North American Aerospace Defense Command with “It’s A Wonderful Life” on in the background, shaking sugar on reindeer and tree-shaped cutouts, getting progressively grumpier as midnight approached.

All to throw out half the stale cookies in a few weeks, because no one ever wants more than a couple. I was not very holly jolly when that happened, let me tell you.

My little brother, who’s actually a 6-foot tall chemical engineer who works in an oil field and therefore the exact opposite of little, loves to put together a Nativity scene puzzle we’ve had since we were kids. Every year, we have to finish the puzzle before anyone can go to bed on Christmas Eve. True confession: I hate putting together puzzles. I especially hate putting together puzzles late the night before the big guy squeezes down the chimney, when all anyone wants to do is put out the cookies and go to bed.

Are we sensing a theme here?

Don’t get me started on the frenetic mall outings, awkward holiday parties, or the endless parade concerts, plays and events that fill up the calendar faster than you can say “reindeer pause.”

So, when my mom asked the family what we wanted to do with our holiday season, it made me stop and think before I reeled off the 16 “traditions” that would really make my holiday season complete.

It might be that I’m more Scrooge than Cratchit this year, or maybe I’m just beginning to realize the reason for the season, but I’d like us all to pump the brakes on holiday insanity, for a second.

For me, what really makes my holiday special is spending time with family and friends, preferably in a setting where we can all talk and catch up with one another. As much fun as those crazy holiday parties can be, I prefer a quiet evening over a cup of hot cocoa, where we can share stories and maybe one of those cookies I swear I’ll bake ahead of time, this year.

Maybe your family has one special event you attend. Maybe you swing by the Drive-Through Nativity, stop to see the Joziak’s Christmas house, check out Mike Randall’s Charles Dickens or wouldn’t miss the Concord Country Christmas. A bit further afield, there’s a full slate of offerings from the Buffalo Philharmonic, our thriving theater community, Neglia Ballet and more. And that’s just the arts scene! Me, I’d like to pick just a couple special evenings and make those really shine, rather than trying to hit every holiday highlight and burn out before New Year’s.

What really decks your halls, this December? I’d like to challenge us all to slow down, step back and realize what’s really important. After all, would the holidays really be so frenetic if we all mutually agreed to dial it back a notch? I’d like to think not.

During the next couple of weeks, I’ll be making a concerted effort to take my holiday season at more of a caroler’s walk than a shopper’s sprint and I welcome you to join me. Maybe this year, I’ll even make just one variety of Christmas cookie. Or at least, fire up the oven before Christmas Eve.
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