Cultural Symbolism, or Baking at Christmas

The kind of thing the kind of people who bake at Christmas get up to.

I have done some baking this Christmas, for the first time in at least a decade.

I’m not entirely sure why I stopped baking at Christmas; it was probably some combination of busy-ness and overwhelm and the idea that we don’t need all that sugar around anyway and resistance and avoidance and the “complex system of denial”1 it supports; I suppose I haven’t baked at Christmas since my mom died, come to think of it. Plus there is the chronic deterrent to cooking in my family, namely that my family doesn’t like what I like to cook and I don’t like to cook what my family likes to eat. Over time, we have largely solved the general problem of cooking by never entertaining, which suits me OK, and buying food made by other people a good deal of the time, which also suits me OK most of the time, although admittedly less at Christmas. [Store-bought macaroons and Mexican wedding cakes OK, store-bought sugar cookies with red and green sprinkles, honestly not.]

At any rate, this year baking became unavoidable. Devi got herself entangled in a cookie exchange at work, and was mocked so mercilessly by everyone in the office for suggesting that she was going to bring candy that she had to come up with a baked good to save face, so we had to brainstorm something, and I had a suggestion that involved getting down my favorite cookbook from when I was a kid that I had rescued from Mom and Dad’s, and making a shopping list for baking ingredients, and going to the store – all of that is a slippery slope, because in the cookbook I saw recipes that prompted the thought “well, we could just as well make that too,” and then in the store I saw ingredients that made me think “oh, if I get a little of that we could also make …” Et voilà, baking at Christmas.

This situation made me notice something: I am not “the kind of person who bakes at Christmas.” I used to think of myself that way, what seems like a long time ago. It seems like I might have thought of myself that way for many years. Then, I couldn’t tell you when, I gave it up; I stopped being that person, along with whatever it was that being her seemed to demand and that – I admit – I felt it impossible to live with.

I am not “the kind of person who bakes at Christmas,” nor do I mean to become that kind of person. But the kind of person I am, the kind of person who does not “bake at Christmas,” nevertheless can, it appears, engage in the activity of baking, near Christmas, and produce tangible results. Results tangible enough to send to the cookie exchange, with enough left over to give as a gift, in one of those specially decorated plastic containers that the kind of people who do bake at Christmas pick up at the grocery store – how we managed to have one of those in the house, I do not know, but it turned out we did – and still have something to take to Christmas-with-the-family in a few days.

For some reason, the situation brings to mind the The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, in which it is always winter and never Christmas, until there comes a moment when the children, whose coming to Narnia is changing that world, encounter Saint Nicholas. The world that had been frozen solid is beginning to thaw, at least enough to let Christmas in.

1 Ann Patchett, The Patron Saint of Liars.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: