The myth of the gingerbread house
December 23, 2013
OTHER VOICES, Sue Clark
One of the few honest descriptions of the December holidays appears in Redbook Magazine, Dec., 1985, where Alice Lawhead writes, "For most of us, Christmas is just such a collection of fantastic expectations and heartbreaking disappointments."
As a working mother, I often feel that "doing Christmas" is just one more task. The holidays seem to race by in a blur of holiday pageants, unglued paper chains and frenzied late-night purchases. Nowhere is my guilt more nourished than when I see in the September Good Housekeeping that "Christmas Crafters Should Begin Now!" By the time November magazine covers appear, I know I'm defeated. I just don't do holidays the magazine way.
Consider the myth of the gingerbread house: Around mid-November, women's magazines sprout similar covers. Gingerbread houses leer at me at the checkout counters. "Create this stunning house with simple materials and delight your family," one trills." "Easy instructions on page 411," advises another.
Well, heck: I want to delight my family. Who doesn't? I mean, a real woman would set aside an afternoon and bake this house, sharing the joy with her little girl, both of them in aprons and a fire in the grate. First, they'd bake cake walls and roof. Then Mom would whip up some frosting, tint it with food coloring and spin it into adorable little windows, using jelly beans in clever ways. Glitter would cover the roof, and candy canes would flank the porch.
But, no. I've asked around. Not one of my working mom friends has ever made a gingerbread house. As a matter of fact, none of my stay-at-home mom friends have, either. "It looks so cute," they sigh, "but who has the time?"
A look at some recent women's magazines reveals several neurosis-generating topics. We'll take a look and alternative suggestions of a pragmatic nature will follow.
"100 Quick Christmas Cookies from One Basic Dough!"
Hey, great! I'll make up 200 pounds and keep it in the freezer. How long does it take to make that dough, though? These recipes remind me of the Turtle Soup recipe: you know, "Kill and prepare one live turtle … "
Go to a bakery; buy red and green iced sugar cookies. Take to a cookie exchange party and conceal among the homemade ones. Hijack your friends' divinity, homemade fudge and crescents.
"Off to the castle for Christmas: The Young Royals."
Off to the castle with their live-in nanny. That's why they look so serene. My story would be "Off to Los Alamitos for Christmas Eve at Grandma's: Back down the Freeway with Whiny, Exhausted Child; Up at Dawn for Santa Ana Grandparents. No Nanny."
"Bring on the Bubbly for Holiday Parties." The author cautions one to store the champagne quietly on its side. The effect, were I a drinker, would be the same: just store me quietly on my side for the rest of the evening.
"Start the Holidays with a Glowing Complexion." That's easy: bring on the bubbly.
"Sew Yourself a Sparkling Holiday Dress." Sure, you bet. Can you spell M-A-C-Y-S?
"Little Sparklers: Turn Greeting Cards into a Glittering Town." This one almost hooked me; it punched my Real Woman button. But check out this supply list:
Two-ply Bristol board (what is that?), Exacto knife and extra blade, glue, ruler, miniature tree lights, artificial snow, acetate, trees, toys, painted figures, cotton swabs and paper clips.
I have maybe two on this list. Continue on to instructions: Look at the template and the little squares you are supposed to enlarge. Have you ever tried to enlarge those squares? It's OK; me neither.
"How to Lift Your Christmas Spirit." My uncle likes to make triple-strength martinis, which he claims to "drink re-toonly." Then he'll say, "Let's lift our glasses," (contemplative pause) "It won't be too hard to do in our family, will it?"
These days, the specter of the gingerbread house doesn't haunt me. A few lights, minimalist tree, no cooking. But last week, a friend came to a party carrying a gingerbread house. I could barely breathe. "How long did that take you?" I asked.
"Oh, about 10 minutes, "she laughed. "That's how long it took to get to Safeway and buy it."
If she can do it, I can, too. Happy holidays and point me to the nearest bakery.
Sue Clark wrote this unpublished essay in 1985, when she was the working mother of a 2-year-old. She lives in Grass Valley.