Bonding over Christmas baking

Monday, December 4, 2017

I spent the weekend up to my elbows in flour and sugar; babies and laughter; stories and hugs.

It was a family bonding, Johnson girls holiday baking weekend.

Flush off the success of a fall getaway for just girls, we inaugurated the holiday baking event this year as well. We focused less on wine and glitter and more on caramel and chocolate.

Having a nice variety of treats was a goal, but even more important to us was a chance to ensure the next generation of ladies of our family remember the vital importance of family in their lives. It's also critical that the younger members of our clan learn the tricks of cooking and rolling a perfect krumkake cone; and the exact texture the boiled potatoes should be for use in lefse. Those are lessons best taught around a kitchen counter, with cups of strong coffee and ancient rolling pins.

You learn by doing, after all. That's what I always heard. And that's why we're doing these gatherings. Lessons are learned, memories made, stories are shared embedded deep in our heads and, much more importantly, in our hearts.

I'm a sentimental fool. Ask my loved ones. Traditions are to be honored, and those we love are to be treasured, far above silver and gold.

I come by it naturally, with a father who may look tough, but is a mushy marshmallow of a man on the inside.

And his father, a craggy Scandinavian with rough hands and a soft, soft heart. My memories of his many kindnesses are vivid to me over 30 years on from his passing.

He was the kind of guy who bought a stack of large 20-pound sacks of sugar in July, and stored them in a pantry closet. Because sugar prices were going sky high back in the 1970s and, by golly, his bride would have as much of the sweet ingredient as she needed to do all the Christmas baking her heart desired. His grandchildren would have cookies and donuts and cakes until they had eaten their fill.

The soft-hearted, sentimental gene is sprinkled pretty liberally among my siblings and the next generation below us. And that can explain the great attendance at our gathering. They appreciate the comfort that comes from being a part of a tribe a group of folks who know all about you and love you unconditionally.

Some families are tribes. Others make their own tribe of people related not of blood, but of love and friendship. Both kinds should be treasured. It can be a cold, scary world out there, and it's nice to know there are people under whose umbrella you can shelter.

At Christmas time, it seems, the tug toward our roots is fierce, and the harkening back to the traditions of our youth is a constant hum echoing in holiday preparations. A pair of events going on this coming weekend at churches in Spencer have been a part of my Christmas traditions for years and would be a great addition to yours Christmas at Bethany, at Bethany Lutheran Church; and Journey to Bethlehem at Grace United Methodist Church. Both events are sure to jump-start your holiday spirit.

For my sentimental, fiercely traditional heart, our day of baking was a wonderful Christmas present a few weeks early. Be on the lookout for your own Christmas experience present to yourself.