My mother loves Christmas. I have fond memories of handmade cards, Christmas tree cakes, glitter, glue, pine cones I collected that we would transform into ornaments and centerpieces. On our tables were orderly stacks of construction paper, fruitcakes in festive wrappers, tins of divinity, and bowls of egg nog. (If we happened to be spending Christmas in Savannah my grandmother and mother made everything doubly perfect. My grandmother’s long pantry was full of wonders – she made her own mince meat pies and fruitcakes – including real candied fruit, giant pecans from trees on my great-grandmother’s property, and lots of ingredients that went into multiple batches of perfect fudge.)
When I was a child, I spent Christmases in, among other locations, Alaska and Florida, New Hampshire and Germany. I especially loved Germany. The winters there were mild, with just the right amount of snow. I learned to love Glühwein and beer. My mother continued cooking, adding German cuisine to her repertoire. We spent a Christmas in Garmisch, and one evening during our stay there I was introduced to the benefits of the sauna when I wondered into a spa and a group of men and women showed me how to properly schvitz. We would emerge from the steamy cabin and walk out onto a snowy roof deck to walk around and cool down, then repeat the therapeutic cycle.
As an adult, I have enjoyed the holiday season in Paris and Munich and Sweden and Barcelona and New York, among other places. I have cooked and eaten in all of those locales, and at every meal, be it a beer and sausage in Trier or a 20-course feast in Donostia, my grandmother and mother were beside me in spirit.
My mother, Sandra, does not cook as much as she once did, and my grandmother died in 2013; around this time every year I remember Ida’s mincemeat pies, her chicken and dumplings, her Savannah kitchen. She taught her daughter well. Next year I will spend Christmas with my mother and father. And we will cook.