When bright lights and evergreen decorate the city and carols fill the air as you turn on the radio, you know it’s Christmas time again. It’s a glorious season, made even more delicious by the traditions that fill our homes and bless, not only our lives, but those of our children and grandchildren. The smell of gingerbread cookies baking in the oven means the Christmas season has arrived at our house. It’s our tradition.

Here’s how it goes. When I first started having Gingerbread Day at Grandma’s house, I imagined how fun it would be to have those cute little hands busy measuring the flour, adding the cinnamon and ginger, mixing in the eggs, molasses and all the other ingredients. I pictured a jolly good time by all. Well, we live and learn.

Jolly was soon redefined as folly. Flour was everywhere, pandemonium reigned. The whole process took so long we ran out of time to do everything else I had over-planned for the event, and the kids even started saying, “Are we done yet?” Grandma’s get smarter as they get older, and it didn’t take long to get old enough to come up with the solution that worked.

After that first less-than-desirable experience I knew what I had to do. The next year I made all the dough in advance, put a nice size ball of it on a piece of wax paper, one for each child. I folded the wax paper around the dough ball and with a marking pen wrote the child’s name on it, then I put it in the refrigerator, which needs to happen for it can be successfully rolled out anyway. Some times I even made it the day before.

1. Stacy Joy EmmaLee.  Gingerbread

Then when the children came each year they would run to the refrigerator, find the ball with their name on it, and the fun would begin. I also learned that each child needs their own rolling pin and apron, so I made sure that happened. I have a cupboard full of rolling pins if anyone needs to borrow a few, and multiple aprons.

Each child gets their own dough-rolling place on the counter top or table, along with a stool or chair to stand on, when needed. A bowl of flour is nearby for dipping in and sprinkling the flour abundantly on the surface so the dough won’t stick. Kids love to mess with flour, and yes, they get it all over everything, but it doesn’t matter, because the dough is already made! They are having fun. They always eat pieces of the dough, as do I. We love the dough. It’s part of the deal, so no one gets in trouble for snitching bites.

2.More little ones join the big kids

It takes plenty of supervision so they get the dough rolled out to the right thickness, sort of. We’ve had some very skinny gingerbread men and some very fat ones. It all works. When the dough is rolled out they begin cutting out the cookies. We have cookie cutters in the form of gingerbread men and women (added when the girls protested as they grew older), along with a few star shaped cutters for the smaller leftover dough pieces. I keep the decorating simple, just red cinnamon dots for eyes and buttons. A couple of times I added tube frosting, but that just didn’t pan out as well and got very messy. Many of the gingerbread cookies looked like casualties of war. We went back to just the red dots.

After they are baked and cooled, we put a few in baskets, then graduated to putting them on paper plates and wrapping them with red cellophane, tied with a ribbon to look festive.

I wondered how long the kids would want to keep coming as they grew older. It didn’t stop. As teenagers and young adults they still wanted to be here. Even though our younger grandchildren were in other states and couldn’t come. This was their tradition and they weren’t about to let it go, nor was I.

3. Ready to deliver

Part Two of the Tradition

Now that leads to the second part of the tradition. These plates of gingerbread cookies are taken to a few widows and elderly loved ones. And here’s how that’s done. Before leaving we put Santa hats on everyone (that evolved a couple of years later when I found some cute ones on sale), practice one round of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” share a few details about those we will be visiting, how much this visit will mean to these folks, and how proud of the kids we are for bringing happiness to others. We talk about Christmas being the celebration of the birth of Christ and how happy He must be to see us caring for others in memory of Him.

Then off we go to deliver our goodies and sing to the recipients. When there were only a few, one car worked. When the numbers grew we used two. As our family grew, some moved away (which should be against the law), so we had to take Gingerbread Day to them, when we could. It was equally rewarding wherever we did it. Love and smiles always filled the air. And it’s amazing how many thank-you kisses and hugs we received from our grandchildren.

4. Gingerbread at Johns Nov 2006

Gary basically has always left this event up to me, knowing it was my “grandma thing.” But he was always part of it, poised with camera, clicking away and preserving the memories. He also enjoyed chauffeuring the gang to deliver their gifts of love and joined in the singing. And, to the delight of the kids, he even put on a Santa hat.

It was always a thrill to see the children present their gingerbread cookies to those we visited, giving them hugs and good wishes. Some of those we visited have passed on, my own mother being one of those. I’m glad they had the chance to bring her and other loved ones this touch of happiness in their declining years.

5. Delivering to Aunt Verna  1990

One Brave Girl

I remember one year we visited my mother in a nursing home where she was recovering from surgery. We decided to take a few extra plates and give them to people in rooms near hers. Our grandchildren were still very young, Stacy, being five years old. We knocked gently on the door of a man the nurses said was very lonely and would not respond to them. He didn’t answer so we poked our heads in. Stacy, who was fearless, said, “Hello, sir. We’ve come to wish you a Merry Christmas.” He lifted up his head and in a mean voice said, “Get out of here!”

Shocked by his rudeness, we started to back out, but Stacy was undaunted. She moved closer to him and said, “Sir, we have come to wish you a Merry Christmas and we’re not leaving until we do.” Then she motioned for us all to come and sing our song, which we did. She handed him the gingerbread cookies and said, “Have a Merry Christmas, sir.” The man smiled, took the plate and kindly said, “Thank you. You have a Merry Christmas, too.” That bold little girl taught us all a lesson that day. I think the children learned a lot about bringing a little Christmas joy to others through these experiences.

When we returned to the house we ate grilled cheese sandwiches- their favorite thing.

And of course, some gingerbread cookies. I also made sure they all had a plate of their own to take home.My secret to having enough cookies to meet all these needs is that I made a batch before they ever got here, then mixed them in with theirs. Just a little insurance so we wouldn’t run out.

The Children Grow Up

The fun thing about traditions is that they go on and on. Our older grandchildren are now adults, two are married. When they were little, I remember them saying, “When we have babies will you still have Gingerbread Day for them, Grandma?” I answered, “Of course, I will.” That seemed so far away then.

Now these two have begun their families and each has a child. Fortunately they both live in Utah and were with us during Thanksgiving where they put their heads together and a date was set for Gingerbread Day at Grandma’s. One of them, EmmaLee, made an invitation for their children and us and emailed it out. I can hardly wait to see these adorable young mommies helping me guide their little ones as they make their gingerbread cookies.

6. Gingerbread Day invitation 2009

Last year EmmaLee, who had gone off to college out of state, wrote me and asked for the gingerbread cookie recipe. If she couldn’t be here, she and her husband would do it there. After I sent the recipe, this is the email she sent back.

“Thank you so much. Grandma. This is the best recipe and the greatest Christmas tradition from my childhood! Great memories. Miss you and love you lots!!! EmmaLee”

I wiped away happy tears as I read her sweet letter that day. She since has graduated and returned with her husband and little son to live in Utah, much to our delight. As I reread her letter and revel in the memories, I know without a doubt that Gingerbread Day at Grandma’s house was worth all the effort. Keep that in mind as you work to create your own Christmas traditions. The payoff is one of the sweetest gifts of Christmas.

In case any of you want the recipe you can find it on our website at www.garyjoylundberg.com, then click on Recipes, then Gingerbread Cookies