It's a meditative experience, after the first week or so. I triple the recipe; the math works out perfectly. There's no cutting sticks of butter or searching for the quarter teaspoon measuring tool. It's all full cups and sticks and teaspoons, and that's very soothing. I think before adding every ingredient, checking my arithmetic, stirring carefully. I watch the yellow eggs turn ecru when the vanilla extract hits the bowl, and I remember my yellow organza formal - they crinkle in the same way.
It's raining outside, the larder is stocked, there's no need to go outside... except maybe to visit with JannyLou next door. This is as close to the weather outside is frightful that Tucson gets; the Pandora Ella Fitzgerald Holiday Station is running white men from the 50's singing about snow, and I can't stop smiling.
Perry Como's inoffensive voice reminds me that Rhonda was on The Perry Como Christmas Show every year we were in elementary school. Her father was his accountant, so she got to dress up and sit on the floor, looking up admiringly at a client singing about a holiday she didn't celebrate. We were all consumed with jealousy.
Russian Jewish immigrants like my grandparents wrote many of the iconic Christmas songs : Let It Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow; Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire; White Christmas; Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer; Rockin' Round the Christmas Tree; Silver Bells; I'll Be Home for Christmas; Holly Jolly Christmas; and, of course, White Christmas. There was a lot of money to be made in the music business those days, when sales of sheet music were a major source of income.
But why people who came from the shtetl wrote these songs goes deeper, I think. They represent an idealized moment in America - family, safety, warmth, protection from the elements, a home to welcome you with smiles and songs and kisses. No wonder G'ma loved them. Daddoooo saw them as Gentile; she saw them as American.
Even before I met Nannie and became addicted to Christmas, I loved carols. I loved the notion of going from house to house, singing with neighbors and friends. The Little Drummer Boy's rat-a-tat-tat can still make my heart skip a beat; it's such a sweet, sad moment in time. The majesty of Adeste Fidelis, the faces of the congregation singing Silent Night.... the music transcends the politics of religion and speaks to a place in my soul.
And so, I suppose that I shouldn't be surprised when Nepali and Pakistani and Africans from all over the continent want to sing Jingle Bells as we walk around the track at Prince Elementary School. Not a single one of them has ever seen a snowflake. We go o'er the fields and there is no doubt that we are laughing all the way. There are tickles on the Ha-Ha-Ha's and there are hugs at the end and then we start singing it all over again. Occasionally, I am allowed to inject the A-B-C's for variety, but whether it's April or August, their favorite song has us in a one horse open sleigh.
Their experience of America is living on the edge. It's new customs and new culture and just like kids everywhere they want to belong. For them, Jingle Bells is an open door to America.
Or so it seems, as I'm stirring brownies and letting my mind wander.