Monday, December 26, 2011

Eggnog Cookies: HumanLight, the Happy Holidays debate, and a Cup of Cheer

I should preface this by saying that I celebrate Christmas.   Though I am Catholic by birth, my husband's family was Jewish, and we are now both UU by choice, we go to our fellowship's Christmas services, put up a tree, and track Santa via NORAD.

But I've felt particularly shell-shocked this year by the "war on Christmas" on both sides of the fence.  You've got the "keep Christ in Christmas" people who shout back -- in an annoyed tone of voice -- "Merry CHRISTmas" to the waving antlered Girl Scouts who are wishing people "Happy Holidays" from the float in our holiday parade.   And then you've got people who get all offended when random strangers wish them a "Merry Christmas" because, well, it's not their holiday, and one shouldn't assume.

I find the "war on Christmas" especially ironic because, after all, it's a holiday that is supposed to celebrate peace.  And joy.  Now, I know that Hanukkah and Christmas and Yule and Kwanzaa are fundamentally different kinds of holidays, celebrated in very different ways.  I realize that Christmas dominates the store decorations and sale advertisements for months leading up to the day, and the other holidays barely get any billing.  As someone who dated Jewish men serially during college and graduate school, I got first hand exposure to the frustration with the Christmas takeover, and it was useful perspective.

BUT: when most people wish others a "Merry Christmas," I feel like it has much more to do with good will towards other human beings than it does to do with Christ.  It's like someone wishing you a good day, only in a different language.  AND: when someone wishes me Happy Holidays, I appreciate that they understand that everyone has different traditions.  I don't get offended either way.

A friend of mine recently shared with me a link to a page about the celebration of HumanLight on December 23.  It's a movement/holiday founded in 2001 to celebrate the ideals of reason, compassion and hope--to be a positive expression of humanist values.  Though it originated among atheists, skeptics, agnostics, and other people not affiliated with a faith community, there's a lot to be said for the common ground it shares with religious holidays during December.  Isn't it time we put down the word-weapons and stop second-guessing expressions of compassion and hope?

Join me for an egg nog cookie, and tell me: which side of the holiday fence do you come down on, if at all?  How do you feel when people wish you Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas?  How do you wish people joy at this time of year?

Iced Egg Nog Cookies

2 1/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup butter, slightly softened
2 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup egg nog


1 1/4 cup powdered sugar
3 tablespoons egg nog
ground nutmeg (for garnish)

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Mix flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a bowl and set aside. In another mixing bowl, mix sugar and butter together. Add egg yolks and vanilla to the mixture and beat until smooth. Finally, add egg nog and mix on medium speed until smooth and creamy. Slowly add flour mixture into egg nog/sugar mixture until completely combined, but be careful not to over-mix.

Drop spoonfuls of dough onto a prepared cookie sheet and bake for 20-22 minutes. Remove immediately to a cooling rack.

For icing, whisk powdered sugar and egg nog together. Add more sugar or egg nog, depending on the consistency you prefer. (I like a “barely thick” icing for these cookies.)
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  1. I didn't notice the war on Christmas but then again, I don't notice much these days. As a school teacher I need to tread carefully, only saying Winter Break instead of Christmas break and wishing my students a Happy Holidays. I don't want to offend anyone by saying something Christmas oriented as I do believe by saying that you're declaring an assumption that might make others feel left out in some way.

    This year my partner introduced me to Krampus and I have to admit, I'm itching to make him a part of our Christmas tradition. I sometimes feel that Christmas, like so many other Westernized holidays, have lost their edge. Nothing in the world is all good, there is always a dark side and for Christmas the only dark side is the possibility of coal in one's stocking. The fact that that alone is supposed to be so terrible is really telling.

    I'm not saying I want to teach my kids that some scary man will steal them away if they are bad but I would like to honor some of the darkness in some way, even if it's lighthearted and funny. Mostly I just want a reason to dress my cat up in a Krampus outfit. ;)

    I like the idea of the HumanLight celebration. As I delve into (and out of) Buddhism I wonder how I will reconcile Western/capitalized traditions with what I want to teach my children about what is really important in the world. The truth is I love celebrating Christmas and I want to do so with my kids, but I also want to make it about more than tinsel and presents. I'm sure I'll figure it out as we build our own family traditions over the years.

  2. I've been thinking about this alot, as we try to decide how to build these traditions with our children. We are not Christian---but I've always celebrated the secular aspects of Christmas as just a fun way to brighten up winter & celebrate family & friends. I have very fond memories of the wonder & excitement from my childhood and want to enjoy some of that with our kids. My husband is OK with decorating and baking but is very against the whole Santa myth and the gift-giving. So this year we did a tree & made a lot of cookies but did no gifts at home (my oldest is 2---his birthday was yesterday---another complication in the whole thing!)
    I really don't understand people getting up in arms about holiday greetings "merry christmas vs happy holidays" on EITHER side. Is it really offensive to a Christian to be told "Happy holidays" or to a non-Christian to hear "Merry Christmas"? Do kids care that they get 2 weeks off for "Christmas" vs. "winter"? I kind of doubt it, but I'd be happy to hear the opposite argument.

  3. I was a teacher in a very multicultural area for many years. While I was always careful to say "winter break" instead of Christmas break, the fact was that most of my students' parents - Jewish, Muslim, Hindu - wished me a Merry Christmas. Acknowledging other people's holidays is one way of celebrating differences! It always made me smile when my Indian parents wished me a Happy Diwali or my Muslim parents wished me a Happy Eid, and I was quick to return the greeting. Yes, I realize that The Christmas Machine is overwhelming sometimes...but I don't worry too much about wishing people a Merry Christmas anymore.

  4. yummm those cookies look delish, just sayin hi from ICLW

  5. I did notice a few comments on the whole Christmas thing. I kind of chalked them up to a regional thing, but huh. I really don't care what people say, I like the nice wishes. I am similar to you, I was raised Catholic, my parents are very Catholic although not judgemental if your not. I didn't follow in the religion. I'm agnostic. We did make a rare appearance in church this weekend so the grandparents could show off the babies to thier friends.

  6. You said this very well---it's so much about the sentiment behind the statement, not the actual words...but people do get wrapped up in the technicalities of it. Whenever I see the extreme feelings come out, I just assume that person has other things going on too--and I know most people are genuinely just happy to spread cheer :)

  7. I agree, people are far too sensitive about the holidays. If someone wished me any type of happy holiday whether I celebrate it or not, I'd say Thank You in return because that is the acceptable response. It doesn't need to be a religious debate.

  8. Like you, I don't get offended at all either way. I have even had people tell me Happy Hanukkah. It is just telling someone to enjoy the season. I usually say Happy Holidays unless I know what they celebrate just in case. I don't want to upset anyone if they are like that. I am going to make those cookies for new years!

  9. I always say "merry Christmas" back. It's a nice thing for someone to say and I definitely don't mind reciprocating. Those cookies look soooo good.

    I just got this amazing Cake Bible from MIL ( a professional baker at one time). The most crazy cakes you can imagine are in there. The Cake Bible has kind of been lost in the shuffle after Martha and then the cake pops but I feel like it's a Julia Child book in need of a renaissance.

    Have you heard of the Cake Bible and have you ever used their recipes?

  10. It's funny, Dh and I were just talking about this. Well, I was doing my best to explain my interpretation of it all to someone who didn't grow up here. Of course, everyone's perspective is unique so I can't really speak for anyone but I get the sense that, to some people, it is a reminder of their minority status.

    Personally, I agree with everyone that it is the sentiment that counts, not so much the details.

  11. I'm not religious in any way however I was raised a Catholic. For me the holidays are a time to take a break and celebrate with friends and family the passing of another year. For me it's a connection with our Western culture with is based in Christian and Jewish faiths. And it's a way to connect back through the generations; we all have family recipes the holidays just wouldn't be the same without. So in my hot Australian kitchen I roasted veggies, a turkey, and my family's special stuffing. In the lead up to the day I baked 6 dozen mazariner, a Swedish almond tart that is far and away better than any mice pie. And baked and decorated spice biscuits shaped a Christmas trees, moose, and dala horsed. And I think part of having my own insane traditions tolerated (most Australian have a BBQ or seafood, which is much saner) is to tolerate those of others. I love hearing of different traditions, and that is part of what sets ours apart as special too IMHO.


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