this is the Christmas of my childhood

In the process of preparing to move, I went through my little two drawer file cabinet. Wedged into the very back of a file folder was a small stack of recipes.
These recipes are older than I am.
I set these particular recipes aside, put them in a safe place.
You know how that goes…
Meanwhile, Thing 1 has patiently waited for nearly five years for me to present her with the apple butter recipe. This recipe came from the next door neighbor, and is in her handwriting.
My mom made this apple butter as long as I can remember. Thing 1 loved when her Grandmommy would make it for her when she was a little girl. I think this might be her ‘golden ticket’ recipe.

It feels serendipitous that I came across these as we were coming into this time of year.
Advent is sacred to me. This most anticipatory time of year. When we’re enveloped in the spirit of Christmas, filled with love and hope and light.
Having these recipes in my hand at this time of year is perfect because they are absolutely the Christmas of my childhood.

My grandmother added her thoughts to the recipes she wrote out, and in the upper left corner you can see the words: Good Toots Recipe!
‘Toots’ is the pet name my grandparents had for their beloved and longtime friend. Grandaddy always called her Toots, but to me, she was ‘Little Grandma’ because she was small of build.

Little Grandma made these gingerbread men every single year. They were, and remain my very favorite cookie. They always had red hots as eyes, and hard silver dragées as buttons. They snapped in the most perfect way, and had the spiciest ginger flavor.
She only made them at Christmastime.
In the years since Little Grandma’s been gone, I’ve eaten many gingerbread men. Some disappointing ones. Some damn fine ones. But none as delicious as the ones she made.

I’ve been saying to my own baking guru Thing 1, I want to make Little Grandma’s gingerbread men. This is my childhood, I say.

Then I stop for a moment and I think, this is my childhood, and realize I’m actually hesitant to bake from this recipe.
How much of my love for these cookies is directly linked to loving Little Grandma? How much of my love for these cookies is about being excited to spend time with her in her little craftsman house in Clarendon? How much of my love for these cookies is about nostalgia?
Are they actually as delicious as I remember?
Can I just go to World Market and buy some Nyakers Swedish gingerbread men and be content?
Will Thing 1 and I bake these cookies and break my heart?
Will one of the last precious things from my childhood be broken?

That’s my fear talking. My anxiety. My sadness.
I’m sad that I’m the only one who knows what I’m talking about when I remember. I’m sad my sacred and precious Christmas tradition memories are foreign to my daughters, to my husband.
I’m fearful that I’ll ruin those memories by trying to recreate them.

I have to stop and breathe.
I have to be more mindful.
Perhaps it isn’t about recreating as much as it is creating something new from something sacred.
After all, Christmas is about hope.

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