I remember a time when the end of Thanksgiving signaled the beginning of one of our favorite times of the year – cookie baking season! My mother was infamous for her Christmas cookies and my brother and I were more than willing to help. Sometimes that meant cutting out the cookies.. other times it meant making sure the reject cookies were properly disposed of. They taste just as good. But regardless, this season brought a whole slew of new smells to our kitchen… the old standards, gingerbread, sugar, chocolate chip…. and the new. This was our family tradition…. and one that was passed down through the women in our family.
These cookies were meant to be shared… and shared we did! Our family and friends were guaranteed a tin of homemade cookies during the holiday season. All we asked was to return the tin to ensure a batch of cookies the next year. This never seemed to be a problem as our family and friends happily complied to ensure a stream of Christmas cookies.
I don’t know how many batches of cookies we made… but it sure seemed like a lot. We stored them in our cool basement to keep them fresh and, to keep them out of our prying hands. It didn’t always work… we would sneak downstairs and score some gingerbread cookies anyways. But enough cookies remained so our family and friends could enjoy them.
As an adult, I carried on the tradition for awhile. I still remember a Christmas when it was the battle of the cookies between my mom and me. We both had brought cookies to a family friend’s house. I reached for one of my mother’s standards, peanut butter, only to discover that she had forgotten the peanut butter. When I told her, she immediately grabbed one and insisted that she tasted it. Everyone else disagreed and my mom endured a little bit of ribbing that Christmas.
That tradition ended when I became Muslim much to the complete disappointment of my then husband who had enjoyed cookies from Christmas past. I was made to feel that I should avoid anything which appeared to celebrate Christmas. Terms like “haram” and “imitation of kuffar” were bantered about. I couldn’t understand how an innocent cookie or two, ok a whole lot more than two, could lead me away from my new found faith but I complied anyway. I knew I would still be getting cookies from my mom anyway. But I could never bring myself to avoid giving gifts to my family, as was suggested, because this season was so heavily filled with family traditions which were important to them. It would have been hurtful to do otherwise.
This year, after much reflection, I am reclaiming a family tradition. The truth is I’ve missed it. I’ve missed the smells, the companionship of making cookies with family or friends, and the joy that comes from giving them away. So tomorrow I will bake. I will bake with friends who are coming together to make an unprecedented amount of cookies. (And sample some as well). It isn’t that I have changed faiths, I haven’t. I still don’t believe that Jesus is God in the flesh. But we Muslims do believe in the virgin birth. We do believe in the underlying message of love, compassion, and peace on earth. We do believe in sadaqah which encompasses any act of giving out of love, compassion or friendship. This is something I can get behind – embracing a family tradition of sadaqah…. and sneaking some good cookies. . . . I have to sample them right?