when i was a little girl i always looked forward to december. not just because of my birthday and not just because of christmas. because my grandma would come from michigan to visit for nearly a month. i would count down the days until her arrival and it always felt like christmas really started once she was there.
in her own beautiful and simple way, she seemed to draw out the essence of the holidays. she would hand-cut holly and pine needles from outside and adorn our mantle with fragrant and natural greens. she would read the christmas story to me and my sister, sitting by a crackling fire. i loved hearing her stories about christmas on the farm when she was a girl, taking horse-drawn sleigh rides and how she and her brothers and sisters got one orange apiece as their only gift. and early on christmas morning, she would huddle with us at the top of the stairs, waiting to go down and see if santa had eaten his cookies and brought us presents.
perhaps my most treasured memory is of her christmas “nothings.” for christmas day she would always make a christmas tree-shaped coffee cake, all from scratch. i would hang around her in the kitchen while she baked, watching as she mixed the flour and sugar and cinnamon together. she would always tell me what she was doing as she baked so that i learned along with her.
once the dough was ready she would create the shape of the christmas tree. and as it took its form she would pick off the extra or irregular pieces of dough and set them aside. she would then take those leftovers and create what she called “nothings” – little pinches of dough she would bake on a separate cookie sheet, just for me and my sister.
to me, the “nothings” were something truly special. my own little treat, separate from what the adults would enjoy on christmas morning. i savored each one, letting the sweet and nutty flavor fill my senses. i didn’t know of anyone else who had heard of “nothings” – they were my grandma’s unique creation made especially for our family.
as i look back i believe there is a lesson to be learned from her “nothings.” a lesson about taking the scraps and leftovers and unwanted parts and turning them into something new. so often i want to throw out or eliminate what doesn’t seem necessary. i want life to be perfect with no jagged edges when in reality it’s totally messy. in her little “nothings” my grandmother showed me the possibility of transformation. how to find beauty and value in unexpected places.
it’s been years since i have celebrated christmas with my grandma and even more since i tasted a “nothing.” i miss her so every holiday season, but my memories of her warmth and sparkle are still alive in my heart. and though she created christmas “nothings” for me and my sister as children, i am now old enough to appreciate their meaning – how to turn nothing special into a special “nothing.”