Embrace Nontradition This Holiday Season

Source: University of Chicago News

By Grace Mersch

December 8, 2020

For the past few months, I’ve been trying to instill any sense of normality in my life. I’m not the first one to say these COVID restrictions have become exhausting.

Unfortunately, I know I shouldn’t get my hopes up about being able to celebrate Christmas with my extended family this year, and my favorite annual event with them is coming up: our family cookie bake. It’s the one day of the year in which my extended family crowds at my grandmother’s house, batches of warm cookies sprawled over nearly every table in the kitchen and dining room. 

It sounds like a COVID disaster. It was at that moment I decided there was no better way to celebrate Christmas alone than to have a cookie bake of my own — well, on a smaller scale, of course.

And since 2020 has been anything but a normal year, I wanted to make a cookie that is not traditionally made in my family. While mindlessly scrolling through Instagram, I came across a recipe for garam masala molasses cookies and thought: this is it.

Garam masala is an Indian spice blend that includes cumin, pepper, coriander, cinnamon and paprika — a flavor combination I always considered savory and not sweet. For this reason, I only wanted to try it more.

So I woke up on Sunday morning, the traditional day for our cookie bake, and gathered my ingredients — molasses, oil, sugar, egg, baking soda, flour, cinnamon and the garam masala I’ve been hanging on to for the past 10 or 11 months. 

Luckily, for me, the recipe could not have been more simple. All I had to do was mix together the wet and dry ingredients separately, mix them together, roll the dough into balls, roll them in sugar and bake. 

At that moment, baking those cookies felt like the best way to bring the spirit of the holidays into my home during one of the most stressful years of our lives. My whole house radiated with the warmth and sweet smell of cookies, reminding me of those days from my childhood at the cookie bake. 

What surprised me more than the taste of the cookies I made (they were delicious, by the way, with a taste similar to gingerbread but with more depth) was the fact that I was able to almost recreate my favorite annual family gathering while staying safe. 

And maybe that’s the best gift we can give this year: space. As we’ve seen in 2020, space means safety, and safety means life. Though it may not be traditional — staying distant during the holiday season — it can be a way to make memories that will last a lifetime. Maybe new traditions will be born out of this nontraditional year.

Instead of taking the risk of continuing with holiday gatherings, consider trying something new. Bake some unique cookies and drop them on your grandparents’ doorstep. Knit a holiday sweater. Do crafts with your family over Zoom. After all, staying distant this year can help ensure we can all gather next year.