There isn’t a song I hate more in the entire canon of awful music than “Blue Christmas”. It’s enough to make me say ugly things just because it interrupted my otherwise festive, Christmas music filled drive. Buuuuuut… even though I can’t stand the music, I get it. In some way that most of us can’t really name, we all get it. Despite all the cheeriness around us, something inside us aches. One of the things I deeply appreciated about the denomination of which I was a part was that it celebrated Liturgical Seasons– especially Advent. Advent is the season before Christmas, the one that gives us space to acknowledge this longing we cannot name as we wait for The One who changes all the things for which we barely know how to hope. The songs of Advent are different than the ones of Christmas: most of them are written in reflective minor keys rather than the festive, sometimes boisterous keys. Advent is characterized by simple candles that help people mark time rather than glittery presents and sparkly lights. What I realized as a young pastor, who diligently tried to help my congregants keep this season of preparation instead of rushing into what has become an often numbing Christmas celebration, was that people don’t like Advent. At all. They want the cheery songs, and all the sparkles. Advent feels too much like real life. I didn’t have enough life under my hat then to understand why anyone would want to skip such a beautiful season. But maybe the truth is that Advent has too many ghosts– too many people we miss too deeply to say, too many memories we can’t quite recreate, and too many feelings that all is not right in the world– and there isn’t anything we can do to fix it.
At 36, I’ve become an avid watcher of Hallmark Christmas movies. Everything always works out just the right way. And while they’re sometimes cheesy (or even really cheesy), at least people treat each other kindly. There’s a festive feeling that reminds me of how I felt about Christmas as a kid: what it was like to drag out all the decorations and finally put up the tree, how I enjoyed sitting by the fire with a festive tree and my family, doing a Christmas open house, and going out to look at lights, of dressing up to go to the Christmas Eve service at our sister church–where my dad and his best friend would share the leadership of a service that concluded with a Candlelit congregational singing of “Silent Night.”
This year, for the first time I can remember in years, I need to make Christmas cookies. Maybe it’s all the Hallmark movies, or maybe it’s the lack of Christmas lights out here in the country, or maybe it’s too many people I love hurting, or maybe it’s the recent loss of my grandmother who was one of the strongest ladies I think I’ve ever known.
I told my trainer/ best friend yesterday that I was planning to make Christmas cookies, and expected him to make a comment about not eating them or where they’d go on my body if I did, but in complete sincerity he said “I think you should make cookies. I think that’s exactly what you need.” I laughed and said, “No trainer tells their people to make cookies.” And without laughing, he said “What would Pudge say?” Touché. Because Pudge would say with absolutely no hesitation that sometimes you need to take care of your soul and spirit. That eating should always be a sign of loving your body and honoring who you are, and that sometimes you just need to make the cookies. (Which is not the same thing as eating a tube of refrigerated sugar cookie dough!) It’s not always only about the calories or what fits in your macros. Sometimes the most life honoring thing you can do is celebrate where you can, without niggling about whether it’s healthy or not. Don’t do anything that will cause you regret in the morning (like eating the aforementioned tube of cookie dough!), but fully giving into the need to celebrate occasionally is exactly what you should do. It’s exactly what will help you succeed at your healthy lifestyle in the long run.
I went to the store and got the items to make some recipes that sounded good. Turns out I had nothing other than vanilla extract and eggs that would help with cookies. But the problem was that I had no connection to any of these recipes… I just found them on Pinterest. We made cookies some when I was a kid, but more of the Chocolate chip variety than the Christmas kind. All the things I bought to make cookies last night are still put away– none of those recipes were really what I wanted to make. I don’t have a recipe for cookies that makes me think of Christmas. My parents always made Belgian cookies, and that makes me happy to think of them making them together– but that was their tradition from early in their marriage, not my tradition.
I need your help. Do you have any Christmas cookie recipes that you always make? You know the one I mean– the one that “makes” Christmas for you? The ones that your kids loved to help you make, or the one people always ask you to bring to gatherings? I’d love your best recipes–please don’t clean them up for me or try to make them “healthy”. Please tell me what makes these cookies special. I’ll pick one recipe and share it and your story in case someone else needs to feel like Christmas. To say thanks, I’ll also send you a coupon for a discount on a T-shirt from my new sponsor, YoLo D.Signs. Don’t have a recipe? That’s ok– I’d love to hear some of your favorite Christmas memories. I might make a compilation and share them with everyone. You’re one of my family members? That’s even better… I’d really love to hear your favorite memories.
Wherever you are this season, I wish you peace and the kind of joy that sneaks up on you when you least expect it. I hope that you will make decisions that celebrate your love of your body, but also that honors your life and memories. Please don’t stress so much about eating “right” that you skip out on the things that make it feel like Christmas. You’re in this for the long haul– to become healthier and stronger, and for bigger reasons than to just drop a few pounds!
Eating is a form of self-respect and self-love, but sometimes that means celebrating fully. Bake your grandmother’s buttery sugar cookies if that’s what you need to do!