It’s that time of year when all our family rituals kick into high gear. October has Halloween, November has Thanksgiving, December has Hanukkah and Christmas. And our family traditions and rituals are still surprisingly important to my adult children.

We have a strong tradition of baking lots of cookies before Christmas. My mom baked with my siblings and me growing up, and I always baked cookies with my children. We use my grandmother’s variety cookie recipe, particularly good for roll & cut cookies, which we paint with a food colored egg white wash, then decorate with jimmies and sprinkles and edible pearls. It’s a day-long process. And we build gingerbread houses, too, out of graham crackers and decorator icing and bags and bags of candy. Often friends join us.

One year, right after my divorce, December was particularly overwhelming. I never managed to get around to baking with my daughters, so on Christmas day, still in our pajamas, just after finishing opening our presents, the girls told me they didn’t want to have a year without cookies, so we baked all day on Christmas Day in our pajamas! That ritual had become essential to them, and they felt the holiday would just not be the same without a cherished family tradition. And I had no idea at the time how important that tradition had become to them.

A few years later, leading a family session on ritual, I asked the children to tell their parents what holiday rituals were important to them. Parents were amazed at what their children told them. It wasn’t the big expensive presents. It wasn’t the grand gestures of vacations and traveling to far away places. It was the small actions that built relationships, the moments of relationship building, the expressions of love between family members.

We went shopping this week for costume pieces for Halloween. We’re excited for this yearwe’ve been told that we will have hundreds of children visiting for Trick or Treat! After years and years of living way out in the country where we had no visitors, and even the last five years in Columbia where mostly elders lived and so our visitors numbered a couple dozen, we are excited to be visited by so many happy children. We’ll get dressed in costumes, pull out our camping chairs to our front lawn (I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a warmish evening!), and spend the evening laughing and exclaiming over all the amazing costumes we’ll see. We’re building a new tradition in our new house!

My wish for all of you is many years of rituals, no matter your age or what kind of family you have!

In faith,

Robin’s Grandmother’s Variety Cookie Recipe

  • 1 lb butter
  • 2-1/4 cups sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 4 eggs
  • 1-1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 6 cups flour

Cream butter, sugar, vanilla. Mix salt, flour, baking powder in separate bowl. Add to butter-sugar mix, alternating with eggs.

Roll and cut. Bake at 350°F for 11 minutes.

Robin’s note:

We mix 1:1 egg whites and water, then add food coloring. Use this mix to paint cookies BEFORE baking, and it makes a brilliant stained-glass like glaze on the cookies. Or sprinkle with colored sugar or sprinkles before baking. Or you can decorate with frosting after baking.

We usually make double or triple the recipe for a season, and have made these cookies for every holiday since I have an awesome supply of cookie cutters that I have collected over the years.


  1. Suzanne Henig

    Little did I know how important it was to our son to have Jimmy Buffett’s Christmas Island playing as we exchanged holiday gifts. One year when Sam was in his 20s, I couldn’t find the CD after a brief search and gave up, figuring we’d just play something else. I quickly learned how central that particular CD was in our family ritual so resumed my search and found the CD. Crisis averted!

    Thank you, Robin, for sharing your family’s holiday ritual. It was very thoughtful to share your cookie recipe too!

    • Robin Slaw (Author)

      It’s amazing, isn’t it, what our children decide is most important? Thanks for sharing your story, Suzanne. 🙂

  2. Lindsay Thompson

    Your grandmother’s cookie recipe sounds very similar to my family recipe with the egg white wash. They are so beautiful! I was just talking to a friend last week who commented on how much she enjoys receiving gifts of those cookies each year 🙂

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