Christmastime means many different things to people. For some it is a religious holiday, a time to celebrate Christianity, and indeed, the spirit of Christmas. For others, its a winter holiday, a time to celebrate with family and friends, to revel in the season for giving and for its cheer and happiness.
Preparations for Christmas start early. The stores have their lights on and their goodies early. Halloween is no sooner done, than the Christmas decorations come out. Everyone puts up their trees and houses are beautiful with twinkling lights and sparkling reindeer (I even saw a moose this year, yay!) In our family we do things a little differently. We have two birthdays to celebrate first, and so in order to make sure everyone gets their moment in the lights, we start our Christmas preparations after the second birthday is done. Our tree and lights go up a little later, and (by this time, poor, broke me) starts thinking about Christmas presents. I don't bake all that much, to be honest, simply because its just the three of us and I don't love all that sugar floating around :) Plus we have lovely friends that always bring us Christmas goodies.
Midnight mass is attended, and is as much of a religious, as a social experience. Its a good way to catch up with friends and family, and expats like myself, who make it home for Christmas. We marvel at how quickly our kids have grown up, before decamping to a relative's house, where we can share our customary glass of port and a slice of cake. Living where I do now, I will have a little private smile at the 'snow' (cotton wool) covered Christmas trees, and marvel at the stunning light displays that adorn the churches.
Christmas mornings are for making the endless round of relatives and neighbours to wish them a Merry Christmas, and hand out aforementioned cakes. There is some good natured arguing about the best bakery to source your cakes from, with several bonus points if you make your own. We don't do presents in India, rather we celebrate with a huge, Indian style meal that everyone is invited for. We don't necessarily sit around the table either, the food is always lined up on buffet style tables and everyone goes and helps themselves to a plate. We wander around the house, eating, drinking, chatting and gossiping. When I was younger, Christmas night was the night of the Christmas dance, and we all ended up with groups of friends, dancing the night away, heading to the beach to watch the sun rise, and then stagger home, bleary eyed, and sleep the day away. Fun.
My Canadian Christmas is a little less traditional. The last few years, we have been all over the place, with all sorts of Christmasses. We've offered my cousin Crystal her first Christmas experience in Canada (ahem, though I am not sure if she'll agree that taking her ice skating for the first time at -25 C was a good idea) but we've also hosted friends and family, and hosted a Brazilian family, taking them driving through the Rocky Mountains in the dead of winter. All these varied experiences have meant that if anything, Christmas has never been boring.
Which is why, every year, as a little nod to non-tradition, I love to mess around with one traditional recipe that every Canadian household seems to make. These absolutely gorgeous, melt-in-the-mouth Canada Cornstarch Shortbread Cookies. The first year I made these, I stayed tried and true, the second year, I added a little chocolatey twist and this year, its the turn of citrus. That said, I have no idea why I didn't try this version earlier, because these are just gorgeous. Light and fluffy, with the lightest zing of fragrant lemon, and still utterly moreish and melt-in-your-mouth.
Not strictly traditional, perhaps, but then, tradition is really all about evolving and I love to celebrate my little non-traditional world just as much.
1/2 cup Canada Cornstarch (or any other brand)
1 cup plain flour
1/2 cup icing sugar
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
Sift the cornstarch, flour and icing sugar into a bowl. Stir in the lemon zest.
Using either your fingers or two forks, mix in the butter, until a soft dough is formed.
Shape into 1 inch balls and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. OK, I am a little over organised, and I weigh each ball, which should be around 15 grams.
Flatten lightly with the palm of your hand.
Bake the cookies at 300 F/ 150 C for 15 - 20 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. These will be soft when they come out, so make sure you let them cool before you take them off the cookie sheet.