Grandma loved to tell the story, and I loved to hear it. The one of the (singular) Christmas gift her parents would give her and her 7 siblings. As she told the story, her eyes would sparkle, a child-like smile pushing wide her thinned, aged lips. Clues to the sense of magic still alive within her.
“We would wake up on Christmas morning,” she would say, “and there, on every surface of our small kitchen, were cookies. Everywhere, cookies!”
Dozens of cookies.
On the table, across the counters, over the sideboard, as many cookies as their parents’ meager farm income would allow.
Their own personal wonderland of sugar.
Grandma never said, but I would not be surprised if her parents saved back pennies here and cups of flour there for months in order to pull off such a feat of Christmas wonder.
I imagined her as a little girl standing in the middle of the magic, her big brown eyes growing bigger, the sparkle I saw erupted like fireworks.
Her parents, she later found out, stayed up all night Christmas Eve baking for their children.
So tenderly did she hold this special gift in her heart that when she grew up, her signature Christmas gift, known far and wide in our small town, was a plastic ice cream tub full of cookies. To be on her recipient list was to be blessed. Not just with different varieties of cookies, but with the love – and careful time – infused into each buttery bite.
Such a simple gift. Such a simple concept.
And it continued to light wonder in hearts of all ages for decades.
Several years ago, when I hit the point so many other American parents do of please-stop-the-gifting-madness, I thought back to Grandma, her cookies and her palpable delight over her parents’ simple gift.
That wonder still living in her as an 80-something was the kind of lasting wonder I wanted to inspire in my kids. That kind of sacrificial generosity prompted in her, I wanted to see take root in their lives.
So I put my own spin on the gift first given by my great-grandparents.
For weeks, I found hidden moments to bake, decorate and freeze cookies and other treats. My girls never saw a drop of flour on the counter. Never knew what came their way.
On Christmas Eve, my husband and I waited until they were asleep then took the cookies out of the freezer.
On the counters, across the table – every surface, everywhere, cookies.
To see their eyes on Christmas morning! The fireworks of joy. Their own personal wonderland of sugar.
The wonder I imagined written across Grandma’s young face I saw first-hand, highlighted in bright hues on my children’s faces.
“How did you do this?” they kept asking, voices dripping with awe.
I handed them each a container to pick out the cookies they wanted, and smiled.
So special was this gift, they have asked for it every year since. They love to hear their great-grandmother’s cookie story, a simple piece that connects them in a tangible way to the woman they never knew.
We give our girls a few other, store-bought gifts as well, but the centerpiece of Christmas morning is not what is under the tree, but what is on the table.
Spread out in love, and magic.