Kate Flora here, listening to the wind howling outside, and remembering Christmas on the farm in Union. Although she didn’t tell us this until years later, our mother didn’t really like Christmas. Perhaps it was because so much of the work of the holiday fell on her. Not just the expected tasks, like shopping and wrapping and cooking and entertaining and sending out the dozens and dozens of holiday cards. Because we didn’t have a lot of money, a huge amount of work and ingenuity went into producing holiday gifts for relatives and friends. While everybody helped, she was the one who made sure everything got done, everything got packed, and everything got shipped in time to arrive before Christmas.
On Sennebec Hill, the month of December was given over to the production of presents. Mom would get out her cookie sheets and recipes, and make batch after batch of holiday cookies. Butter cookies in plain, green, and chocolate that the cookie presses would shape into wreaths and trees and candy canes. These would then get decorated with red cinnamons, tiny silvery sugar balls, multi-colored sprinkles, or green and red sugar sprinkles. There were tiny meringues with finely chopped nuts, anise cookies, and many other varieties that only got baked at Christmas.
These would get packed into tins and mailed to relatives and to friends back in New York and New Jersey. The tradition was that the tin of cookies would arrive in time for Christmas, and then the friend or relative would travel to Maine in the summer to visit, and return the tin so it could be filled for another year.
At some point during the month, John, Sara, and I would be allowed to bring a friend
home from school to bake cookies. Mom would have different “stations” set up for us, with the dough all made, and we could bake trays of cookies decorated just the way we wanted, and each friend would get to go home with a tin of special cookies.
While Mom was mixing and baking, little sister Sara and I would be gathering balsam, snipping it into tiny pieces, and then sewing up small, colorful fabric pillows on the reliable old Singer machine. These pillows would be stuffed with the sweetly scented fir and shipped along with the cookies.
While we were doing that, Dad would have gone out into the woods and gathered the various plants for the terrariums that he would assemble in small glass bowls. I remember pillows of green moss and Staghorn moss and partridge berries. These tiny, magical gardens would join the cookies and pillows in the packages that were carried to the post office.
One holiday tradition I do carry on most years is making the Finnish coffee bread our up the road neighbor, Lili Johnson, would bring us every year. Part of the tradition, when we would make her recipe, was shelling the cardamom pods and putting them into the special grinder. Along with the bread, she would bring each of us a pair of handknitted mittens, always wrapped in white tissue paper.
I rarely make holiday cookies anymore, but writing this makes me want to dig through the cupboard, find that old cookie press, and make a tray of sugar cookies, just for the fun of remembering.