Mom’s Christmas Butter Cookies

By Ginger Murphy

As I lay awake one night, trying to settle down and go back to sleep, I began to think of Mom and how sick I knew she was. It was coming into another year’s holiday season, and I was thinking of the one thing that held my family’s hearts and waistlines together – Mom’s Christmas butter cookies.

As I lay there, I began to think of years gone by. I wondered how this tradition was started and honestly, I was very curious! I wondered if Mom, along with her sisters, Charlene and Barbara and their mother made Christmas butter cookies each Christmas? As the sisters each got married, did they meet in one of their kitchens to make the cookies? How long has this tradition been going on? I made a mental note to ask Mom about this!

I envisioned Mom as a new wife looking forward to married life with her new husband and all the dreams that stretched out before them, trying out a passed down recipe. I see Mom with two toddlers under foot. Did she make those cookies while they were napping? As they grew did they get to help cut out the cookies or were they the taste testers? Years later, there was another little one under foot. I bet Mom made those cookies while Bill and Tom kept an eye on their little brother, Steve.

More years go by and Mom now has a 12, 11 and a 6-year-old, as well as a newborn, me.

Fast forward a few more years to the 40-something wife and mother who is now faced with her husband’s serious illness. Did she bake those cookies? Probably, because no matter what “everyone has to eat.”

A few years later, she is now a widow, learning to live without the love of her life, with two sons in college, a third son in high school and her daughter in grade school. Did she bake those cookies the year Dad died? I think so because, life went on and traditions had to be kept.

There was the middle age mother who was now a mother-in-law. She made sure each son and daughter-in-law received their Christmas cookies. I was now old enough to remember helping her. I was the decorator. As I watched her, Mom always taught me to roll the dough thin, place two inches apart on the cookie sheet and LIGHTLY sprinkle with the colored sugar. I can hear her voice – “lightly sprinkle Ginger, lightly sprinkle.”

Time didn’t stop, and the years continued to click by. There was now a new husband and her first grandchildren. Family tins of Christmas cookies are now given out. I remember my brothers playfully arguing about who was Mom’s favorite, and who got the most cookies in their tins. Everyone looked forward to their special Christmas treat. A few more years and the grandkids started to get married, and then there were great-grandchildren.

As the years moved quickly by, I took on more responsibilities of the cookie baking. My daughter Shayna became part of the great baking tradition. It moved like a well-oiled machine. I rolled out the dough and placed the cookies on the cookie sheets, Shayna was the decorator, while Mom placed the trays in the oven and took them out. She made sure to scrape the trays after each baking so that they were clean of any loose colored sugar crystals. Now I heard my mother’s voice say, “lightly sprinkle Shayna, LIGHTLY sprinkle.”

Mom’s hands were now arthritic, and she was slowing down. It is now mostly up to Shayna and me to make those cookies. Mom would continue to make the dough and help to clean up. I would do my usual, and Shayna would decorate the cookies and prepare the tins. At this point the baking was mainly for me so that I could share with family and friends. Gone were the days of the family tins.

This would be the first year that Mom would not be a part of the baking. I was profoundly aware that she was just too sick, in fact she was dying. Mom would not be making the dough and Shayna and I would not be going to her apartment to bake. I knew also that the tradition going forward was going to look and feel a lot different. The baton had been passed, and I knew in my heart that the tradition was passed to Shayna and me to continue.

We set about to make the dough and followed the recipe to a “T.” When the dough was complete Shayna and I taste tested it and agreed it looked like Mom’s dough, but more importantly, it TASTED like Mom’s dough! I rolled, Shayna decorated and we both put them in and took them out of the oven. We missed Mom, but we had fun. This was our special time.

I was blessed to have time with Mom. We sat together in her room at the nursing home sharing some of the cookies. The best compliment was that we got an AAA++ on them. She even asked me to bring her more. Just three more though, because you know, she had to watch her sugar!

I asked her about the tradition of baking Christmas cookies. Was this a family tradition? What’s the deal? I heard her say, “Here’s the story.” This is the point where I knew I should just sit back and enjoy the ride.

Let me just say that any assumptions I had made were pretty much wrong!

So, the story, according to Mom, goes like this….

Each Christmas Eve, my grandparents would invite a family friend to the house for a holiday cocktail. During this visit my grandmother would attempt to mix the dough and roll it out. It seems my grandmother was not one to measure correctly and would become flustered while trying to make the cookies. My grandfather not wanting to deal with the baking drama in the kitchen would promptly take himself downstairs to decorate the tree. That was it! I felt a little deflated. So, no Mom and her sisters lovingly rolling, cutting and decorating? It was not exactly how I envisioned it. This wasn’t a tried and true family tradition that had been handed down.

Even though I wanted this to be a bigger, better story with an exciting ending, I will always remember putting aside time and baking with Mom. This became a mother/daughter/grand-daughter tradition. I will also fondly remember how much we enjoyed the playful banter, how the kitchen looked like a flour bomb had gone off by the time we were done and finally taste testing and agreeing that those cookies were pretty darn good!

Mom provided us with a recipe outlining how to carry on a tradition and how to live life. It is up to us as her kids, daughters-in-law, son-in-law, grandchildren and great grandchildren to continue to “lightly sprinkle” each other’s and other people’s lives with love and sweetness.

We love and miss you Mom, Gram and Mi Mi!

About this writer

  • Ginger Murphy

    Ginger Murphy

    has worked in the financial arena for 30 years. She is married to Terry and has one daughter, Shayna. Originally from the greater Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, area, she currently resides in Greencastle, Pennsylvania. Ginger enjoys reading, camping and the beach.

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One Response to “Mom’s Christmas Butter Cookies”

  1. Linda O'Connell says:

    Your delightful story touched me deeply. Merry Christmas.

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