Sunday, December 21, 2008

Oh Holy Night and Butter Cookies

Tonight, on the night of the Winter Solstice, and the fourth Sunday of Advent, we began what I hope is to be a new tradition at our home. Called the Advent Spiral, it is practiced in Waldorf schools and many churches at some point during the Advent season. We chose to do ours on the winter solstice, the darkest day of the year, to help us remember how the birth of Christ brings light into the world.

As the participants walk the spiral (made from various evergreen branches) towards the lit candle in the center, they reflect on the darkness that is in this world. At the center they light a candle that they are carrying (which is stuck in a little apple). Then on the return path they set their candle down to illuminate the way for others, all the while reflecting on how they can bring the light of Christ out into the world. This ritual was performed in silence, then carols were sung at the end.

I must admit, that I had to suppress a giggle as I walked the spiral, but I was quite moved at how reverent my children were when they had their turn. They were all eager to participate and as we watched everyone else take their turn, a hushed and eager anticipation filled the space. It provided much opportunity for conversations about the real meaning of Christmas, and how that is so lost in much of the other Christmas "rituals" including frantic shopping, traffic and crowds, and parties. It was such a lovely and spiritual time, and brought our hearts right back to where they should be in these last few days before Christmas. In fact, we loved it so much, we may do it again on Christmas Eve, inviting some friends and neighbors to participate.

I realize that this post has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with food....but should mention that after the Advent Spiral, many celebrate by eating star shaped cookies (symbolic of the miraculous star that guided the shepherds), and drinking hot cider. I think we may do that on Christmas Eve when we do Spiral #2.

Which brings me to my recipe. These cookies are delicious, buttery and easy to make en masse. I made 25, 4 inch gingerbread shaped cookies to my son's class for his holiday party. Of course, it requires a whole pound of butter, so it better make a lot, right? The recipe is adapted from one in Susan Branch's Christmas from the Heart of the Home Cookbook.

The picture below is all that is left of the cookies, a veritable "gingerbread men" carnage. Not pretty to look at, but pretty good to eat.

Butter Cookies
makes 6-8 dozen

2 C butter, softened
1 1/2 C sugar
4 egg yolks
2 t vanilla extract or 1 t almond extract
4 1/2 C flour
1/2 t salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. With an electric mixer, cream together butter and sugar. Add yolks and extract and mix well. Sift in flour and salt and beat into butter mixture until well mixed. Use an un-greased cookie sheet when ready to bake. I refrigerated the dough for a bit, then rolled it out to about a quarter of an inch thick on a floured board and then cut them into shapes. This dough can also be shaped into a log, rolled through chocolate sprinkles then sliced and baked, or made into candy canes by dying half the dough red then rolling them out into 4 inch strips (like pencils) and twisting them together into candy cane shapes. Bake for about 10 minutes, but do not let them brown. Remove from cookie sheets while still warm and let cool on sheets of parchment.

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