What is it about Christmas that makes people feel creative? TV is loaded with cooking shows featuring candy, gingerbread houses, and all types of holiday food. People who rarely open a cookbook the rest of the year pull out (or find on Pinterest) cookie recipes requiring three kinds of sugar, parchment paper, and careful monitoring of their ovens. I myself used to indulge in this culinary orgy, making my own peanut brittle, chocolate covered pretzels, and my sons’ favorite, peanut butter cookies (the ones with the Hershey’s kisses).
I grew up with parents who were ultra-creative. For my first Christmas, my father built me a toy-box – but no ordinary toy-box. This was a red-and-yellow wagon that at least six toddlers could fit in, with wooden wheels and hand-painted circus animals. On each side, my dad hand-lettered “Pretzel’s Circus” (my nickname as a toddler was Pretzel for my propensity to lick the salt off all the pretzels then put them back in the bag). There was a bench seat on one end, and a handle so that this circus car could be hauled around.
Over the years, Pretzel’s Circus held a variety of items as my brother and I grew up: Barbie Dolls, Tonka backhoes, GI Joe and his Jeep, Matchbox cars, my collections of Bobbsey Twins and Nancy Drew mysteries, and, after I left home for college, my mother’s sewing patterns, fabric, and yarn. It was moved out of my parents’ old farmhouse when I had my two sons, who turned it into a Circus firetruck, complete with fire extinguisher and fire boots. Sadly, it collapsed after too many fire calls in our driveway!
For one Christmas, my parents built a railroad out of cardboard boxes and papier-mache. It took up a good part of the living room, and was absolutely adorable, but the mice in our attic enjoyed nibbling at it in the off-season, so it never made another appearance. After that, my parents tried to be more practical with their creative efforts, producing elaborate holiday centerpieces, napkins, and table-cloths. My mother made dolls out of paper, and my father produced a rocking horse and then a little “Bear Chair” for his grandsons.
I’ve continued their creative efforts ever since, not only in baking, but in sewing pajamas and quilts, knitting socks and sweaters, and encouraging my sons to make ornaments. We decorated our own ornaments for several years, and then moved on up to more professional results by going to a glassmaker in Corning, New York to blow our own glass ornaments (which I treasure – I know the sons would love to get theirs back for their own trees, but so far I’ve resisted the hints).
For a few years, we even made our own Irish Cream liqueur, using a recipe I found in some Holiday book. It was pretty potent stuff, I recall! Since my sons were underage, we also produced a non-alcoholic version that tasted like a very rich chocolate milk, but I’m reminded of our distilling efforts every December when my husband and I open a bottle of Bailey’s.
This Christmas will be no exception to the urge to be creative – so be warned!