The year I was pregnant, I felt so ill and barely moved off the couch for weeks on end. But one day, I managed to get up, trudge into the kitchen, and make Swedish butter cookies with my kids. It was the one and only time I felt happy that holiday season. Mixing the (secret!) ingredients with my hands — because that's the only way to do it — to make a recipe that's been passed down in my family for at least five generations, instantly lifted my mood. Teaching my girls how to press a fork into the top of the dough to create that special effect that makes our butter cookies original made my physical aches and pains subside. And smelling them baking in the oven — that delicious, familiar aroma filling the air — and watching as my children tasted this year's batch, their little faces lighting up with pure enjoyment, was just what I needed.
A few years later, I'd lost a pregnancy, and the approaching holiday season filled me with sadness. I don't recall feeling much other than empty that Christmas, but I distinctly remember finding some comfort in making those butter cookies with my children. Here was something we could still do together, despite our heartbreak. We could still create something through our pain. That day, I plunged my hands into the sticky dough and kneaded its familiar texture. I may have even smiled and laughed when my daughters licked my fingers. And when I bit into one of those deliciously soft, buttery, melt-in-your-mouth cookies, I was content, even if my sense of security and peace lasted for only a second.
I think back to all the years I've baked Swedish butter cookies with my girls. When we started this tradition, they were toddlers. My kitchen would be a mess afterwards; flour everywhere, sticky surfaces, and even stickier hands. As the years have gone by, now my children help with measuring and mixing. Some years we make a batch for a holiday party or bake sale. Other years, we enjoy our cookies just us, at home, alone, full, warm, and happy. And I hope that no matter how old my kids get, they'll always want to make butter cookies with me. I hope that making our treasured family recipe will remind them of all the other years we baked, through good times and bad. That the smell of those butter cookies baking in the oven will feel like home for them, no matter how far away they may roam or how unsteady life has made the ground beneath them.
I picture holidays to come, when my girls are older, maybe in college. They've moved out, but they arrive home for Christmas, and we bake our cookies together. They tell me about their boyfriends or dorm drama as we knead the dough and prep the oven. I'll think back on all the other batches we made together, knowing that no matter what has happened, we can always come back together and rely on this. And if I'm lucky, one day I'll bake our Swedish butter cookies with their children. And after I'm long gone, I hope future generations will bake those cookies at the holidays, and find the same cozy familiarity and sense of calm this tradition has provided for me and my children.