By JUDY A. TOTTS
Dandi Daley Mackall captures the sweet spirit of the holiday with her latest picture book, â€œThe Gift of the Christmas Cookie: Sharing the True Meaning of Jesusâ€™ Birthâ€ (2008, Zonderkidz, $16.99). With illustrations by Deborah Chabrian, the story unfolds in tough economic times of years past. Jack, the main character, learns on Christmas Eve that his father, who hopped a freight train to look for work out West, wonâ€™t be home for the holiday.
When the warm and wonderful aroma of freshly baked cookies greets him as he enters the kitchen, he canâ€™t believe it. His mother hadnâ€™t been able to make cookies for more than a year. His excitement is short-lived when she explains the cookies are for those in need at church.
As Jack helps her roll out the dough to make springerle cookies using special molds called cookie boards, she tells him the story of the first cookie molds, how a woodcarver and his family managed to feed people in their village spiritually as well as physically. The family went to the village on Christmas Eve and told the story of Christâ€™s birth using cookies, handing them out to their neighbors and friends.
â€œAs his daughter held up an angel cookie, the woodcarver began: â€˜Long ago an angel like this one brought us the most wonderful news: Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.â€™ â€
Jackâ€™s mother told him the tradition of telling the story using cookies continued to this day. Jack has his own sweet moment of giving when he shares the very last cookie â€” one his mother had saved for him â€” and its story with a stranger.
An easy sugar cookie recipe is included, so you can start your own holiday tradition. Mackall also provided information on the origins of Christmas cookies. Craftsmen from the Schwabian region of Southern Germany, Austria and Switzerland carved cookie boards called springerle molds. People still make this type of cookie today, either by using a mold or using a special rolling pin to imprint shapes on the dough.