Christmas is so close but every year it’s the same frisson of surprise right about now: Christmas is just around the corner!
My family all moved away from the City so Christmas has a dimension that’s new to me but familiar to many. Travel. Not only do I have to make all the usual preparations but I have to do them early so that I can get up to the country a few days before Christmas. Aaack! Where does the time go?
This year is a little different, however. Being on a strict budget with little room for necessities, let alone generous gifts, I have been dipping into my well of creativity to help make this a special Christmas for my loved ones.
This summer I started a variety of knitting projects to go under the tree. Fortunately for said budget the necessary yarn for these projects were already reposing in my stash. Each family member is receiving a knitted item lovingly made by me. The fun thing about knitting for someone else is that with each stitch I create I am thinking about the recipient. I think about how much fun I am having making the gift for them, how pretty or handsome the item is, how soft and plushy, the lovely yarn texture and its color, and how much they will enjoy wearing it.
The same holds true for the food items I make every year. It wouldn’t be Christmas if I didn’t make shortbread. The recipe was kindly given to me by Margaret Golbransen, my dear sister-in-law’s delightful mom. The recipe is from Margaret’s great-great-Aunt Violet in Scotland, and not only is it a symbol of the true delights of certain aspects of Scottish cuisine, but a most delicious, addictive cookie. Una makes it too every Christmas for our dad, and of course hers is so much better than mine, but nonetheless I don’t believe I would be allowed in the door without bringing some carefully wrapped containers of these cookies.
For years my repertoire of Christmas goodies has shifted like the sands of time. One year I baked enormous braids of cinnamon bread, homemade chocolate truffles with various fruity ganache centers, candied or spiced nuts, peanut brittle, English toffee, miniature loaves of cranberry lemon bread, candied ginger and pear breads, cheddar-beer-bacon loafs, or my favorite, the syrup soaked Meyer lemon breads.
This time last year I did not make any of the food gifts I usually do. mUm was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes right before Thanksgiving, which came as quite a shock to us all. She was not supposed to have any sugars or carbohydrates of any kind and that is a challenge any day, let alone during the holidays. Naturally, I didn’t want to seem unfeeling and dole out food gifts to everyone and leave her out, nor give something she couldn’t or shouldn’t have while she was struggling with complying with a new stringent food plan. Then, the unthinkable happened. Shortly after Thanksgiving her 2nd ever mammogram had an area of concern, and on Christmas Eve the doctor met with her to say she had breast cancer. Please note the tense of that verb, *had*. It took a *lot* of persuading on our part and of her friends to convince her to accept the treatment plan. We are all so grateful she did have the surgery and all subsequent tests (knock on wood) show she is cancer free. Santa gave us the greatest gift last year, and that is the future of many more Christmases with her. But until her surgery and followup exams and tests and this and that it was mid-March and no one felt very festive last Christmas. It was a sombering few months, sadly shared by far too many families. I feel like we were the lucky ones, and feel the joy and yet a touch of guilt for so many have lost loved ones in just the same way. Is it selfish to feel so happy? I hope not.
So this year, we are feeling terrifically joyous to be together. mUm says that if she has us all under one roof we could walk in with nothing but lint in our pockets and she would be delirious with the joy of the season. But I want to arrive with a few goodies in tow, not necessarily the sugar/carb fest of years past but fun nonetheless. This year we celebrate!
But what to bring? The element of travel makes these gifts more complex. there is the issue of freshness, breakage and mostly the grocery budget. I have been squirelling away pantry items in anticipation of this budget shortfall. I found a source for inexpensive yet organic sweet cream butter. I found 2-for-1 sales on my favorite brand of flour and sugar. My new contacts from blogging have gifted me with a lovely stash of chocolate and a variety of kitchen swag that I will regift. I am delighted to say that I will be making shortbread this year and perhaps some truffles too. I know this will please my family, and I will feel like I have contributed to the spirit of Christmas by having a few packages to place under the Christmas tree.
It isn’t the Christmas I wanted to give them but this holiday isn’t about the gifts. It’s about that we are all together, healthy, and it’s about the love. I have plenty of that in abundance to share.