We just finished putting up our very first Christmas lights. Nothing fancy, just a string of small colored bulbs along the eaves and a wreath with the same type of lights on the chimney wall. But it was my first decorating with Christmas lights as a grown-up, and it made me happy. The "firstness" of it is illustrated by the fact that we bought three strands of lights for under $3 apiece - and a $70 ladder.
Admittedly, we are heading back to my parents' house for Christmas, but somehow decorating my own house seemed like a milestone. It also got me thinking about other Christmas traditions. One of my favorites as a child, which I haven't indulged in since then but am looking forward to doing with my kids at some point, is making sugar cookies.
If you are not familiar with sugar cookies, they are the sort of plain butter, flour, and sugar cookies which are given shape by rolling out a large flat sheet of dough, and then stamping little metal outlines into the dough and thereby cutting out cookie shapes. The ones that I am familiar with from my childhood are a Santa outline, a Christmas tree outline, a star, and a crescent moon. I imagine that these days you can find cookie-cutters in darn near any shape imaginable, and that modern kids are producing cookies in the shapes of dogs, cars, telephones, playstation twos, and Britney Spearses. More power to them.
But, regardless of the exact shape of the cookies, all children will be faced with the same dilemma that I was once faced with. How much cookie do you try to get out of a given sheet of dough, and how much margin? Because, you see, you get to eat the cookie dough that isn't part of the cookie you just stamped out. So, when faced with a virgin sheet of dough, do you fit as many cookies in as possible, bending your mind and stamping in Santas at right angles until you have an Escher-esque sheet of all cookie, no margin... or do you stamp one Santa right in the middle, declare the rest "margin", and eat it?
Duh. BUT! Not so fast. Of course you are not doing this unsupervised. Your parental unit will do their best to ensure that no blank space remains for you to just eat. You are, after all, supposed to be making cookies, rather than eating sugar. So you have to be tricky, and stamp the little outlines just close enough together that you could not fit another cookie between them, but far enough apart as to maximize that tasty, tasty margin.
Or so you think. Because, you see, that dough is recyclable. So when said parental unit comes by, lifts out the carefully placed cookies and puts them on the sheet, they may then simply take all that margin, wad it up into a ball, and roll it back out for you to stamp more cookies out of! Such perfidious treachery! Eventually, the child will learn, and I am speaking from experience here, to just eat dough when not being looked at. Of course, doing so without eating so much that you are caught (when the parental unit comes by and finds you with one Santa, one Tree, no more dough, and an innocent look) is an whole other ball of wax. Which we are not going to talk about, because it's time to move to the next aspect of sugar cookies:
Frosting! Yes, once you bake those bad boys it's time to smear brightly colored sugary frosting all over them. An easier task, really, because the frosting by itself is not quite so tempting to just eat with a spoon. Not quite.
Our frosting came in four colors, the primary food coloring colors of Green, Blue, Yellow, and Pink. It tried to be Red, but it never really seemed to make it there. Frosting came in little bowls, and you slathered it on the cookies with a butter knife. There were little sprinkles of various sorts you could then embed in the frosting, and it would air-dry in an hour or two producing the finished cookie.
A person wholly unfamiliar with children might assume that they would happily frost the Santas red, the Trees green, the Stars yellow, and maybe get a little artistic and frost the Moons blue. Of course, what really happens is that you wind up with perhaps one red Santa, a dozen or so blue, yellow, and green Santas, and then the Santas where the children have discovered that they can mix frosting. So you have Santas with blue pants, yellow shirts, and green faces, Santas with a spiral effect a la Jerry Garcia, and Santas of a sort of greyish-brownish color where all the frosting got whipped up together. And the trees are often worse.
Not to mention the sprinkles. We had chocolate ones, green and red ones, and my favorite, little silver balls. The little silver balls were not all that edible, being crunchy little nuggets of tasteless paste, but they were silver, so I loved them. Ostensibly they were for things like Santa's buttons, reindeer noses, or if you were really zany tree ornaments, but I wound up just shoving freshly frosted cookies facedown into the silver balls, and winding up with a Santa that Liberace would have been envious of, and that had the edibility of dry toothpaste.
And they say that too much sugar is bad for you.
- Sun Ra
Columns by Sun Ra