Picture a church — not a Currier and Ives church with a steeple and double doors, but a low-slung mid-century brick building off a moderately busy street, with a wide peaked roof and a mosaic glass window. It's early on a Saturday, but the parking lot is full, and it is full not for the glory of God but for the glory of Christmas cookies.
It's 8:15, and the doors won't open until 9:00, but the vestibule is already full of cookie seekers jealously clutching numbered post-it notes. The number determines what group you are in; first group, first pick. Second group, a decent chance. Third group, crumbs. And of course, it depends on who falls in what group. One year, I watched a woman sweep away tray after tray of cookies, frustrating everyone behind her.
Everyone mills around, drinking coffee in styrofoam cups from the big silver coffee urn and nibbling on little pieces of Greek holiday bread set out on a cheery paper plate. Most of the crowd is silver-haired, but here or there a sleepy-eyed child holds on to a dangling hand or jean-clad leg, wide-eyed at the crowd.
At 9:00, a woman appears, and announces that numbers one through 15 can step into the sale. Sean and I are lucky enough to be in that group, so we step in, grab a disposable food-handling glove and a white bakery box, and set to work. The church's — cafeteria? gymnasium?— multipurpose room is dashed with lines of folding tables, each covered in trays of homemade cookies. Shortbread thumbprints with jewel-like dots of jam, flaky baklava in festive paper cups, sugar cookie mice with almond slice ears and licorice tails, stained glass windows made of colorful marshmallows, pfeffernusse and pfefferkuchen and pepparkaker in sweet clouds of confectioner's sugar; nut balls and rum balls; turtle cookies and minty cookies and brownie cookies and reindeer cookies with pretzel antlers and red-hot noses. This year, the church folks have thoughtfully put all the nut cookies on separate tables to one side of the room. Another table is dedicated to nut rolls and apricot rolls, but we are cookie-only people, so we wind around the tables, taking a cookie or two from each tray.
In ten minutes, we have more than enough. These will be our tide-us-over cookies, the ones at hand until my annual baking extravaganza starts this weekend. I feel lucky to have two of the mice cookies; a woman with a fanatic gleam in her eye took nearly all of them. Maybe she is sharing them with friends or grandkids or coworkers. I hope they bring her joy.