There is no month in our calendar that creeps and speeds in turns the way December does. No month with days that feel so rich and counted, filled with both anticipation and tender mindfulness. Days that move slowly, with nothing planned but adorning a balsam fir, reverently gathered from the neighbor’s hillside, with light and memories; unwrapping each bauble and decoration slowly from the paper that protects them the other eleven months of the year, to hang them on evergreen branches - remembering the wood-cut snowflake from a beloved friend to commemorate a baby born, smiling heartfully at the homemade clay ornaments with small handprints that no longer line up.
Days when the to-do list just says gingerbread, and we putter about in the morning with extra cups of tea before taking to the kitchen to stir together molasses and dark beer, butter the antique faceted pan, and wait for the deep, spicy scent to fill our noses.
Days when the floor is swept 4 times due to Christmas card confetti, white paper bits of snow strewn on table and chair and underneath, proof that everyone did their share in spreading the cheer.
Days for playing games of St. Nicholas, leaving each other’s muddy boots under the tree and filling them with surprises we already own, pretending to be bemused and delighted to find them - and then playing again and again for the sake of the smallest amongst us’ joy.
Days you planned more but ended up reading every Christmas book by the fire instead, doling out extra top-of-the-head kisses instead of looking at the time on the clock.
Days that sped by, gathered with friends to decorate gingerbread cut-outs and eat our fill of cookies: iced, jam-filled, double chocolate, with homemade Irish cream in our coffee and a pack of treat-filled children running outside, searching on teams to find hidden treasures in the snow.
Days for making evergreen wreaths from tree trimmings and fallen pine boughs, to adorn the wall by the stove and the blue barn door.
Days with not much too speak of, until a neighbor drops by to pick up her loaf of weekly bread and leaves us with an enormous pear, wrapped in gold foil, smelling thickly of sugared pear perfume. We unwrap it slowly, everyone grinning at the simple pleasure, and eat thick slices so rich and sweet it seems downright decadent.
Days spent in the snow, those special outside-all-day days when snow has piled up during a cold night but the day welcomes us with temperatures just on the friendly side of freezing and the only reason to take a break from snowballs and snow-people and snow everything is to come in and dry your mittens over a bowl of leftover soup.
Days so cold they’re just for quiet, for extra rest, for drawing pictures together and remarking every time the snow out the window changes character: mama, look at these big fluffy flakes, now they’re small and fast, did you see them now? It’s like we’re in a snow globe.
Days when Dad brings home surprises; holiday books from the library, wrapped parcels from friends, once a plateful of butter cookies from a neighbor who used to have his own pizza shop, cookies so scrumptious and familiar you’d wish it could be cookie season forever.
Days defined by their scent, like the day we dipped beeswax candles and the whole house smelled like summer honey, or the day we dried orange slices in the oven to hang in the window to catch the waning winter light.
Days still to come, to simmer orange peels into candy, to finish the treetop angel, for mornings filled with sticky cinnamon buns and the flurry of brown paper wrapping heaped in a pile by the wood stove, its contents are spilled out, its work all done. Days for more snow and more cold, for thank you phone calls and afternoon board games.
Days for celebrating the sun and the moon, for shedding last year’s old skin and welcoming a new year, a new light, a new self if we so desire, from the shadows of December’s days.
1 ½ sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup maple sugar or brown sugar
½ cup molasses
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
Pinch of cloves
Zest from one half a lime
1 ½ cups all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour (or you can use more all-purpose)
Whisk together the soda, salt cinnamon, ginger, cloves, lime zest, and flours. In the bowl of your mixer or in a large bowl with a wooden spoon, cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the egg, and then the molasses. Add the dry ingredients slowly, mixing just until the dough comes together. Knead together on the counter for a minute if needed to make a smooth dough. Chill the dough for one hour or overnight. When you’re ready to bake, heat your oven to 350 degrees and line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. Roll the dough to ¼” thick and cut out shapes or rounds as desired. Bake about 10 minutes.