Saturday, January 5, 2008

Christmas Cookies

Christmas in Belize is very unlike Christmas in the US. It’s much more of a religious holiday, and Christmas decorations aren’t widespread, we didn’t see anybody with a decorated tree in their house (a few – like 2 in people’s yards in town), and gift giving is kept to a minimum. We didn’t want to look like gringos throwing our money around, but we wanted to let all the people that we’ve become friends with this year, and who have helped us get settled, know that we really appreciate what they’ve done for us. So, I decided to make cookies. I spent the Friday before Christmas baking, I think, a dozen batches of cookies, or maybe more, since many of them were doubled. I made all the cookies that were the traditional cookies in Tom’s family and mine: butter spritz cookies, Christmas M&M cookies, chocolate chips, snickerdoodles, peanut butter kiss cookies (better known as “chocolate boobs” in Tom’s family), oatmeal raisin, and a couple of batches of different kinds of brownies. We bought a couple of bags of the ubiquitous white Styrofoam boxes and some red and green ribbon, and we packaged the cookies up and started distributing them. I took them to our neighbors, and Tom made a Saturday run to Spanish Lookout and San Ignacio where he gave them to all the merchants and business people who have helped us get on our feet here this year.

We were shocked at people’s reactions; nobody let it go at a simple “thank you,” and Tom heard from a number of different people that nobody had ever done anything like that before for them. I went back to Spanish Lookout with Tom on Monday, Christmas Eve, to drop off the modem, and in every place we went, the merchants came out from their offices and behind their counters saying “So this is the lady who made those delicious cookies” so they could personally thank me. Tom went back to Spanish Lookout yesterday (in a failed attempt to retrieve the modem) and he said that in one of the hardware stores, one of the workers followed him up and down the aisles for fifteen minutes raving about how good the cookies were and how that’s the nicest thing anyone has ever done for them. I find that a little bit hard to believe, but apparently the guy meant it because he asked Tom if we’d be doing it next year, and when Tom said we probably would, he said that was incentive to keep the job for another year!

The comment that made me go “Awww…” and get a little teary-eyed came from our realtor, Noah, who came to Belize from the American Midwest almost 20 years ago. He said he opened the box of cookies, saw and smelled them, and was immediately transported 40 years or more into the past, into his mother’s kitchen at Christmas time. He said he thought he was used to the Belizean traditions by now, and he didn’t realize how much he missed Christmas cookies until he had them in his hands. Tom had given them to Noah at his office, and Noah, being honorable, decided to take them home to share them with his family. Noah also invited Tom and me to join them for Christmas dinner, which we did, and we spent a wonderful afternoon sitting in their breezeway looking out over the farm, talking and eating. Noah’s wife Marayla is a wonderful cook and an extremely gracious hostess, and she was the one who told us that on Saturday, when Noah told her about the cookies and realized he’d left them in his office, he jumped back in his truck to drive the four miles back into town to retrieve them. When he got them home, Marayla took each cookie and divided it into four sections so she, Noah, her sister Mercedes, and son Fred could all have some of each cookie.

When we had dinner there, we were treated to Christmas baking Belizean style, which is yellow cake and black cake. The yellow cake is like (or maybe is) a pound cake, and the black cake is delicious rum-soaked fruit cake, but it’s still cake-y, not that un-food-like texture of American fruitcake, and the fruits are still recognizable as fruits, not bits of bright red and green sugar that may have been fruit at some point, or maybe not. When we were talking about Christmas food traditions with Noah, Marayla, and Mercedes, we realized that cookies probably aren’t made because unlike in the US, ovens aren’t standard kitchen equipment, and while a cake can be carefully cooked on/in a woodhearth, cookies are just a little too delicate and would probably burn on the bottoms. In any case, we had a great time visiting and learning about Belizean Christmas traditions, and thanks to good company and great people, we made it through our first Christmas here without any tears.

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