When we were kids, we used to help my mom, my Great Aunt and my Grandma bake batches and batches of Christmas cookies. My Great Aunt and Great Uncle Joe never had children, but they were practically another set of grandparents for us; we slept over their home regularly, they were a fixture at every family event, and they always babysat us when my parents went out.
Some of my best memories were having chocolate milk and a snack before bedtime at their home, and I’ll never forget the New Year’s Eve when they let us stay awake until midnight and have a sip of champagne. We were SO excited; we pursed our lips, extended our pinky fingers, took a sip — and ran straight to the sink to spit it out immediately. (While my childhood self wondered, Who drinks this poison?! My adult self slowly raises her hand and offers a moment of silence for the bubbly going down the drain.)
Anyway, back to the cookies. Baking for Christmas was a beast of a task, and when you’re talking about that insane amount of cookies, there are bound to be some bad batches. In the early years, we would get upset when we burned some of them (and we inevitably burned at least some of them).
My Uncle Joe would always tell us, in his Italian accent, to save the burnt cookies for him because he liked them better that way. We grew up believing this and, when a batch of burnt cookies came out of the oven, instead of being sad about it we began to excitedly set them aside for him. Thanks to my place in our family’s birth order (youngest of 6) and in what was probably my very first #spoileralert, I always knew Santa wasn’t real, so I never put out cookies for him. But every year, we put out the burnt cookies for Uncle Joe.
As an adult now with my own kids, there’s been many instances where I’ve given up things I would have liked in order to make someone else happy. An extra bite of my favorite food here, a sip there, and loads of time, energy, and sleep. Never mind the pretending of liking things I maybe didn’t ever care for. I can’t think of anything off the top of my head (Doc McStuffins, the movie Frozen, pumping, being woken up at 6 AM) but I’m sure they will come to me.
Just a few short years ago the thought of giving up certain things I enjoy, or being joyful about things I don’t, would have at best sounded upsetting and at worst, completely non-negotiable. But there’s something to be said for sacrificing things for people you love, simply so you could offer a sparkle of excitement in their eye and a little piece of magic in their heart.
Uncle Joe passed away a few years back. These past few Christmases I find myself wondering: did he really prefer burnt cookies? We’ll never know. What I do know for sure is that he turned something that originally was upsetting into something positive, something we looked forward to. My guess is that he probably did like them, but that it was an acquired taste; one that came from many many years of love, and the desire to make others happy.
Cheers to everyone out there eating the burnt cookies this Christmas. May you have plenty of spiked eggnog to wash them down. But my guess is that you won’t need it anyway, because you might be surprised to find that they actually taste pretty good.