The kitchen truly becomes the heart of the home over the holidays. No matter what holiday we’re celebrating or the size of our families (or our ovens), we all spend a little extra time in the kitchen with our loved ones this time of year.
Plus, it’s kind of like the one time a year where calories don’t count and cavities don’t matter. We give ourselves carte blanche to stock our fridges and cupboards with delicious fruitcakes and mouthwatering cookies.
Every family has their own traditions. Some sip hot cocoa and sit in front of the fire while the smell of melting sugar wafts through the house. Others have full-on baking parties, inviting all their friends over for cookie swaps.
We asked seven families about their favorite holiday baking traditions, from the sentimental to the downright hilarious. Here’s what they had to say.
Baking holiday treats is a great time to get the whole family in the kitchen. Kiddos, no matter their age, can help you measure out ingredients, and the older members of your family can pass down traditions and family recipes. As some of our readers have hinted, it also allows for a little bit of mischief.
“Monkey Balls (yes Monkey Balls) are my favorite holiday food tradition. I think the recipe may have gotten its name over the years because of all the monkey business that ensues when my brother and I are in the kitchen together,” shares Heather M.
“My mom makes a special sweet dough on Christmas Eve and, before we go to bed, it’s the shared responsibility of my brother and me to assemble the dish to be baked the next morning. We roll the dough into gradually less and less uniform balls and dip each one in melted butter, then cinnamon sugar, getting more on one another than on the dough. Then we place them into a bundt cake pan like a puzzle, along with red and green cherries and usually a “surprise” in the form of an absurdly big piece of dough or handful of sugar hidden in the middle. Each Christmas morning we wake up to the sweet smell of sticky pull-apart treats that, despite their imperfections, taste like the holidays and feel like family.”
“We make peanut butter squares on the afternoon when my daughter finishes school for Christmas holidays,” said Susan A. “We make a sort of assembly line where just as much taste-testing goes on as baking for guests. My husband and I do the hot-handling and cutting, while my eldest daughter does the spreading and coconut coating. Yum and fun!”
Homemade gingerbread houses
Gingerbread houses are an obvious holiday staple. After all, your gingerbread people need somewhere to sleep and wait for Santa, right? Some families forgo the store-bought boxed kits in favor of something a little messier but way more fun — and even have some ingenious ways of making their houses picture-perfect.
“My family and I make homemade gingerbread houses each year, always with an abundance of candy and icing,” said Jody L. “We cut shapes from a Premium Plus cracker box about 20-plus years ago, so our houses are always measured perfectly. We just make the gingerbread, roll it out and cut it using the shapes as our guides. Then they go back in the cupboard for next year.”
Wishing on ingredients
The holidays are a really magical time of year, and we absolutely love this little trick for injecting extra charm into your baking rituals.
“My favorite holiday memory from childhood was baking cookies with Nanny (my dad’s mom),” said Katie M. “Making the Christmas fruit cake was and still is a very important tradition. Each of the family members would get to stir a scoop of dry ingredients into the wet and make a wish! My family is British, and I feel like my parents brought a lot of traditions with them and passed them onto their children. Now I get to pass them onto my daughter.”
Changing traditions with age
As time goes on, our families change. While you may shed a tear (or whoop with excitement) at the thought that your little ones might one day not wake up at 5 a.m. to see what Santa brought them, there are plenty of ways to build new traditions as children (and parents) get older.
“A new tradition of ours the past few years is that my mom makes waffles for breakfast before we open gifts,” said Julia G. “As adults, it’s nice to not feel rushed on Christmas morning anymore, and we get a few minutes to enjoy each other’s company before Christmas really begins.”
“Growing up, we didn’t have many cookies throughout the year. Mom only made treats on Sundays and special holidays, so Christmas was a special time to have cookies displayed on a silver serving tray for family and friends. Then I got married and we had our own family, so we passed on the traditions,” shared Lori C.
“My daughter and I would spend a day before Christmas making her special cookies, and my husband started making his traditional cheesecake for us to have with our Christmas dinner. He always makes extra cakes to bring to our neighbors and friends, which snowballed into our neighbors dropping off samples of their homemade treats as gifts. Despite Christmas changing and us now traveling to our family for the holidays, one neighbor in particular always ensures their cookies are ready to bring to our daughter.”
The holidays are a time to gather your nearest and dearest close, whether that be your family, your closest friends or even your office pals. We love this idea of a cookie exchange among a group of coworkers.
“The girls on the floor I worked on would have a party to exchange cookies,” said Roxanne F, a retired nurse. “We all made different cookies and shared them with the others in the group, so we all ended up with lots of different kinds to take home. I know once we did all chocolate recipes, which was fun. And there was always the traditional Christmas cookies, like coconut cookies and stained glass or shortbread.”