In Which There are Stories Behind This Year’s Happy Christmas…

Cookies in progress

Cookies in progress

Christmas has always been my busy season.  As a longtime advertising/PR practitioner, Christmas is when those last-minute client projects are bandied about at the agency just when people are already in a Holiday frame of mind and are ready to go on vacation.  As a member of a Church ministry dedicated to the beautification of the sanctuary, it’s the time of year when the ministry elders are busy arranging the greenery for Advent and the magnificent floral arrangements for Christmas proper.  Finally, as a food blogger and home baker, things get super hectic this time of year because of all the baking I do – cakes, cookies, Madeleines, and loaves of bread – for family and friends.

This Christmas, the Christmas of the year when my life took several serious, hairpin-curve turns, was a hell of a lot crazier than most.  I was helping out with a client event that ran from the 19th to the 23rd: wine promotion, wine sampling, wine sales.  That said, I was on my feet on an average of twelve hours a day, packing wine bottles into gift bags, spieling about how fantastic the wine was (it is, by the way) and what shoppers could get with every purchase, coordinating with the team on site or via mobile, and worrying if the talent we’d drafted to do the acoustic entertainment for the event was on his way over.  (He always showed up; he’s a professional, after all.  And he and a fellow artist delivered over 110% with each and every performance.)

Needless to say that I was tired – still tired, as a matter of fact, while I’m writing this post – and my energy was all but gone.  But Christmas is a holiday – a holy day – that demands commitment on the part of those who have so much to give: you give it all you’ve got or you don’t give at all, you mean, sodding beast.  I had Sunday off, so I spent the time at home baking.

Please note that I’ve been baking every weekend for the past several weeks: peanut butter and Toblerone chip cookies and candy-bar blondies for my godmothers and my mother’s best friends, as well as brownies for my department mates and our head-of-agency.  And then I remembered how I promised a friend a loaf of bread for Christmas – and that was where things got hairy.

Yes, I DID roast hazelnuts this year

Yes, I DID roast hazelnuts this year

How do you renew a friendship that ended rather acrimoniously when you were only twenty and didn’t know any better; when you were so hurt and licked your wounds bitterly?  When you swore upon everything holy that, if you never saw each other again, it would be perfect because it would make all the hurt go away?  Believe it or not, it’s a bloody hell of a lot easier than you think.

You talk online: tentatively at first, because you don’t know what frame of mind you’re both in.  Then, when some level of comfort in company is achieved, your conversations run for hours.  Minds are opened again, souls talk to each other; ideas are bandied back and forth and back again.  And you find yourself saying that you make an amazing pane al cioccolato – that magnificently rustic Italian chocolate yeast bread, with hazelnuts, even! – and, oops, you’ve committed yourself into baking for the long haul.


Just out of the oven

And so it went: a batch of cocoa-infused oatmeal chocolate chunk cookies was dolloped onto cookie sheets, baked till the edges were crisp and the middles chewy and melty.  More chocolate chopped, hazelnuts roasted over medium heat and chopped; kneaded into dough and left to rise overnight.

And, when the cookies were carefully bundled into tubs for one’s boss and my sister’s delivery room team at the hospital where she works, loaves were just as carefully moulded by hand, left to prove, and baked.  And wrapped with care.

People ask: “Why spend all that effort on something that will take hours to prepare and but minutes to scarf down?  For that matter, why bother baking for people who – in our opinion – don’t care at all that much for you?”  It would be so easy to give in to the negativity and give up, but I scrapped ‘surrender’ from my mental vocabulary when I finished therapy.  You never give up; your efforts do matter – and the satisfaction you get is all that matters.  Who cares what the Negative Nellies say?

Yes, it does matter.  It matters to the boss with high standards who appreciates your work at the office and how you go the extra mile to help out; a boss who has been a gruff and kind mentor.  It matters to the young nurses who can’t be with their families this season because they’re on duty, helping bring new lives into this world.  It matters to one young artist who has come to Manila for the first time and wasn’t expecting anything save for his talent fee and the fare home.  It matters to a lady, a dear family friend, who had to have hip-replacement surgery just before the Holidays to alleviate the excruciating pain.

It matters to a friend who had been chalked up as lost for good because of a silly, childish infatuation – but has grown up as both man and artist and now dispenses the most sane, solid, sensible advice to a writer who continues to struggle in accepting both herself and her abilities.  More so because he was in a dither over breakfast and – hey, look here! – finds a loaf of bread that comes in handy.

The things we do, the effort we expend doing them…it all matters.  People may not appreciate it, but Someone up there – the One whose birth we celebrate at Christmas – does.  And His approval is all that truly matters.

Happy Christmas, everyone.  🙂