Vicki McLeod.

Untrending: The holidays are a bittersweet time

She is gone, but her cookie recipe is not.

Hubby and I are experiencing what I call the ‘holiday upheaval.’

I don’t know what happens at your house at this time of year, but at our house, bins and boxes deck the halls, and the kitchen is a factory with a production line of cookie tins and ribbons, where we sweatily cook by the gallon for potlucks and parties.

Work deadlines press as clients realize it’s nearly year-end, and our already busy lives are tuned to a new, more frantic frequency.

Into this mix march the tender ghosts of holidays past. Each ornament unwrapped from its tissue paper, every spattered recipe smoothed in a tattered notebook has a story.

The holidays, as advertised, are meant to be happy, full of peace and goodwill, yet I find myself amid this joyful hubbub, reminded once again of loss.

Our fathers, our grandparents, a friend’s child, a beloved friend and mentor celebrate with us no more. The list of those gone from us grows. My husband lost his mother this autumn, my oldest friend, hers.

The holidays are a bittersweet time. There is the joy of gathering together. The chatter and laughter of mingling friends and family is like sweet bells. The excitement of children alert for signs of Santa, the lavish abundance of special foodstuffs and the clink and tinkle of holiday cheer, glasses raised in gleeful toasts, fill our hearts with gladness.

Then there is memory and absence, the vanishing ghosts of Christmas past. It is a strange juxtaposition – happy anticipation and melancholy. To cope, I make cookies. Not just any cookies, though. This recipe is my mother-in-law’s, destined to be perfect little rounds of crispy sugar and buttery goodness, tucked into cheery tins and shipped to her offspring, a sweet reminder of the mother and grandmother they lost. She is gone, but her cookie recipe is not.

In reality, the cookies I make are waifs. They are like the Charlie Brown Christmas trees of baking – misshapen, sadly flattened on the pan, cracked and broken. I am devastated. A full morning of baking and only a measly dozen are worth gifting. I eat the rejects for lunch, somewhat comforted.

I pause, sitting in a shortbread-induced stupor, and realize that I am striving for perfection. I think I will let that go. Perfectionism is not needed here.

But there is something else here that is worth holding onto.

My mother-in-law had no kitchen in her suite in assisted living, so the first Christmas after she moved, she came to our house and we made cookies together. It is togetherness I am trying to recreate.

I think my mother-in-law, while she might be touched by my intention, would more likely purse her lips at my ineptitude and, sighing, take the rolling pin from my hands. What I wouldn’t give for another moment of that cookie master’s disapproval.

My epic cookie fail reminded me of what is important. Amid the hustle, we are offered a wholeness of experience. The holidays bring us joy and sorrow, expectancy and remembrance.

Like cookies, life is something we make together.

Vicki McLeod is an author, TEDx speaker, and award-winning entrepreneur. She is a business and personal coach and consultant. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram or find her at

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