Me, I Want a Hoola-Hoop!

Well, another Thanksgiving has passed, and you know what that means: it’s time to start panicking because the Christmas season is upon us. Now I know what you’re thinking, and it’s not true: I LOVE Christmas. It’s my favorite day of the year. It’s just that the thirty days preceding it sometimes fill me with a rage and hatred usually reserved for Joe Lieberman and the idiots who cut me off on I83 because they’re yakking on their cell phones when they should be frickin’ driving – yeah, I’m talking about you, lady in the tan Ford Explorer with the “I Brake for Unicorns!” bumper sticker. Hang up and drive, damn you, or we’ll see just who’s mythological around here.

We’re pretty enthusiastic about Christmas at my house. We love it – the decorations, the food, the inflatable lawn statues of lovable Disney characters – all of it. As long as it glows in the dark and is wearing a Santa suit, we’re for it. We’re like a Norman Rockwell family with low standards.

Thanksgiving weekend is the start of my Christmas preparations. That’s when I do my baking and when I put up the exterior Christmas decorations. The success or failure of that weekend can determine whether the holiday season is going to be a relatively calm and happy period of peace on earth and good well to men or an increasingly desperate attempt to get caught up as the shopping days dwindle to a precious few.

Plywood Tree
I made this fake tree out of plywood, xmas tree lights, and staples. It took five hours and probably cost only twice as much as a real one would have.

This weekend hasn’t been bad so far. I spent Friday baking Stollen, which is German Christmas bread. My recipe is based upon one that my Grandmother used for years. It’s scrawled on a browning 3 x 5 index card and I suspect that she deliberately omitted certain important steps from that card to ensure that nobody could ever make it as good as she did. In my youth I spent many a nervous weekend in November in her kitchen being yelled at while kneading vatloads of Stollen dough to her exacting specifications, but mine just isn’t the same. She probably added some secret ingredient like kugel or the blood of a Protestant or something when I wasn’t looking.  

Saturday is cookie day. I made a bunch of German butter cookies, or “Buttergebackenes,” again from a partial recipe from Grandma. These are fairly simple cookies, consisting of several pounds of butter, flour, sugar, some lemon rind, and an old-fashioned leavening agent called cream of aluminum or carbonated ammonia or something. The Internets tells me that I can substitute baking soda (or is it baby powder?) for it and it’s true. My cookies came out pretty tasty. With luck we won’t eat ‘em all in the next couple of weeks.

You’ll note all of the “pounds” in the recipe. That’s because at the holidays German Grandmas think big. The recipe makes maybe a hundred-and-fifty cookies. But my grandmother had an old-fashioned manly oven, big enough to shove Handsel and Gretel in, while ours is small and finicky. I’ve found that the only way to successfully make cookies is to do ‘em one tray at a time, with about 10 cookies per tray. Each batch takes fifteen minutes, which means about 40 an hour, or four hours for the entire batch of buttergebackenes. This is followed by some Mexican Wedding cookies and some peanut butter cookies, and wham! – Saturday’s gone.

It shocks me just how exhausting making cookies can be. I have to rotate each tray half-way through the  baking process (every seven minutes), and even a couple of minutes too long in the oven can ruin a batch, so you really can’t do much except hang around the kitchen all day and try not to eat all of the previous tray’s output while waiting for the timer to “ding.” It’s enforced idleness, but by around hour six I’m a wreck, lurching around like Fred G. Sanford waiting for “the Big One.”

Sunday involves dragging exterior lights and decorations out of the hayloft. Then I plug in stuff and curse at it when it doesn’t work. This year the snowman is good (although it increasingly looks like a zombie snowman), as is the homemade light-up Christmas tree I carved out of plywood. Unfortunately, over the summer something rural chewed big holes in the inflatable Grinch and it’s beyond repair. Soon there will be a fun journey to Sears to pick up another one. And maybe a couple more reindeer for the herd. But they won’t go up until after Monday, which is the first day of hunting season. Even light-up robot reindeer aren’t safe around here on the first day of hunting season.

With the exterior done, the next big job is the Christmas Village. Don’t even get me started on that – at least until the next blog. In the meantime, ho, ho, ho and stuff. Have a cookie; we have plenty. (The peanut butter cookies taste GREAT with Scotch, in case you’re wondering.)


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3 Responses to “Me, I Want a Hoola-Hoop!”

  1. I'm Just Bloggin Says:

    You know, it seems that the Christmas blogs come earlier EVERY year! I remember when I was a kid–they didn’t start until December 19. You would have been ashamed to start blogging before President Kennedy gave his annual Christmas greeting. Now bloggers start as soon as Bill O’Reilly officially begins the War Against Xmas Season, Thanksgiving Week.

    Really, it all hurts the children most of all. I get all choked up just thinking about it. I have to stop now.

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