“Press it thinner.” my mother said, and I struggled to press the soft sandkaker dough into the metal form. I knew that the dough needed to be just the right thickness in order for the sandkaker to bake properly. My young hands worked hard, fingers pressing the dough to the sides of the metal tin, shaped like the outside of a cupcake. It was Christmas and the krumkaker must be made.
Tradition was important in our home. Krumkaker and sandkaker must be made, mixed nuts along with the nutcracker, bowls of mints, and of course fruit, must be laid out on Christmas day. All of these to nibble on while we waited for the special dinner to cook.
The night before, Christmas Eve, we set out a tea cup and cookies for Santa because we knew OUR Santa drank tea. He also knocked on the stovepipe that ran up into the upstairs bedroom, and shouted Ho-Ho-Ho to our delight. We were all together on Christmas Eve, as tradition dictated all five girls must sleep together on that night in anticipation of the early morning when we would rise early, peek at our stockings, and make breakfast for our patient parents, who lovingly consumed burnt toast and runny eggs with courageous smiles.
Our stockings were filled with cupie dolls, chocolate bells, ribbon candy, and marshmallow Santas. Tucked in the toe was a lovely orange. On Christmas morning there were no rules about eating. We gobbled our chocolate while taking turns opening our gifts. There was the year Dad donned each article of clothing he received which brought us great laughter as he stepped into his new winter coveralls and continued to hand out gifts.
The Christmas tree was always decorated on our brother Steven’s birthday, the 21st of Dec. We trudged to the knoll or above the shale pit – there was a name for each field on the farm – to cut down a homegrown tree. We dragged it home to be decorated with glass ornaments, being careful not to break the little glass church and other special pieces. Candy canes came next and lastly the tinsel, always with the warning to hang it one strand at a time, for tinsel hanging is an art. Compared to the lights we use today, the lights on our tree were big, even a bit garish, but we loved them and all their bright colors.
Maybe it was because our grandparents were immigrants or maybe it was just the time in which we lived, but our Christmases seemed to be ordered by old world traditions that I have come to appreciate more and more with each passing year. Perhaps this is why I find myself setting my special Christmas books out, placing the pine boughs over the living room archway, hanging those special ornaments on the tree, insisting the tree should be decorated on Dec 16th, my husband’s birthday, and filling two stockings.
The children are grown and there is no need to continue the traditions, but my mother taught me something long ago as I pressed the dough in the krumkaker forms. It is important to establish traditions for they form the structure on which we hang our lives. Life is fragile and often changeable, but tradition is strong and helps to strengthen our connection to all that is good. In the rush of everyday life, the getting ahead, it is a comfort to know that certain things will always be.
On Christmas Eve we will gather for our traditional Christmas Eve pasta and sauce followed by the candlelight service. Christmas morning is different now, with only the two of us. We rise late, enjoy our coffee, open gifts, and travel to our daughter’s home for dinner. Shouts of Merry Christmas will greet us, little voices will tell of their Christmas morning in a house filled with wrapping paper and toys. They will be full of chocolate from their stockings and they will have left cookies for Santa. They will be too full to eat a proper Christmas dinner, but I hope they have room for the sandkaker.