You guys. The Calvano “Cookie Day” tradition has been going strong for TWENTY TWO YEARS. For the first time ever, I’m writing down the story of Cookie Day: how it started, how it evolved, and what it means to us.
In 1995, I was a freshman at Saint Anselm College.
It was the first time in my life I had been away from home during the Christmas season… and it was killing me. From Thanksgiving to Christmas, my childhood home was in full blown elf-mode: decorating, baking, shopping, wrapping, watching all of the Christmas movies and listening to all of the Christmas music. Being stuck in a cinderblock walled dorm for the entire month of December, away from those sights, sounds, smells and people I love was making me miserable. As a consolation, my saintly mom offered to wait until I got home (on the LAST day of finals, which was Friday, December 22nd that year), before the traditional cookies would be baked and decorated.
When I got home, true to her word, we packed up our baking supplies and drove to my sister’s house in Connecticut, where my two sisters and mom and I baked and decorated for two days and nights (straight, I think)! My dad and brother in law watched football and read the paper and ate whatever slow cooking savory treat we had simmering (actually, I think there was only take-out Chinese food that first year– we have gotten better at this). It was a weekend filled with tears of laughter, togetherness, reunion, bickering over decorating differences and cookie shape and size, exhausted hands and eyes and worn-thin patience, handfuls of salty snacking, story telling and more laughing. And Cookie Day was born.
Every year since then, the four of us Calvano women assemble in the week before Christmas for a two day festival of cookies. Cookies are baked all day on Saturday in our respective homes. Maria and I get together on Saturday afternoon for decorating: she makes and bakes the sugar and gingerbread cut-out cookies and mixes up the icing, and I color the icing and decorate the cookies using pastry bags and tips and colored sugars and sprinkles, while she keeps baking the rest of her batches! It usually takes about 5 hours on Saturday to complete the iced decorating. Meanwhile, Susanne and the nieces are rolling and dipping, and Nonny is mixing and baking up a storm. Then, we all descend upon Maria’s the next morning (Cookie Day is always on a Sunday). We each bring all of our already-baked cookies that are ready to be wrapped into trays.
Here is the list of who brings what:
You can see that my mom is responsible for all of the traditional, family-recipe, complicated ones that involve detailed finishes. She starts baking early in the week, soaking the fruit for the fruitcake and assembling the ingredients for the rest of her cookies. (Next year I will track how many pounds of butter, sugar and flour are consumed by Cookie Day. I assure you it is astounding.) Each of these cookie recipes requires its own post, but I need to put these pictures of my mom making fruitcake in here now because she’s just my favorite.
Maria’s list changes a little from year to year– sometimes she substitutes a new cookie for the “salted caramel coconut,” which is just a place holder for “your new favorite cookie.” Susanne’s may look like a short list, but she and my nieces make literally hundreds of peanut butter balls, which are really labor intensive because they must first each be rolled by hand, and then dipped by hand, one at a time.
Also not indicated on this list are the quantity required: each of these cookies are made in double-doublebatches. That is, no fewer than four batches per cookie… so, let’s say each single batch yields (on average), four dozen cookies (we try to make them small so that we can fit more cookies onto each tray). That means we are walking in on Cookie Day carrying 16 varieties of cookies, with approx. 190 cookies in each variety…. that’s over 3,000 cookies, my friends.
We spend the entire day arranging cookies onto trays (small, medium and large) and wrapping them up with festive ribbons, kisses and candy canes. Here are the original Cookie Sisters, making trays, and Nonny and Matthew, at the Wrapping Station!
Each of us also brings a list of cookie recipients (which changes from year to year as homes and jobs change), and each of us packs beautifully wrapped, delicious homemade cookies into our cars to give to friends, neighbors, co-workers and families at the end of the day.
And that’s not even the best part. This day (now, weekend) has become so much bigger than just “time to bake the cookies.” It’s about togetherness and celebration of shared traditions and the excitement of the holidays. We are three generations deep, now, with a good deal of the prep work and wrapping done by my nieces, and the “running” (bringing cookies out to cars and delivering) done by my nephews and Axel. And it wouldn’t be Cookie Day without extra presents and treats that show up (like these striped leggings on my cookie elf-nieces)!
Cookie Day has become a part of the fabric of our holiday season. All of the kids have a great time, we all have a day to catch up and unwind before Christmas, there is always a big, hot, shared meal (in addition to the all day snacking), a fire in the fireplace, movies, video games, sometimes basketball on the driveway, a football game on tv, pets getting love and attention, Christmas carols and hot tea and cocoa, and merriment abounding. We look forward to it, we enjoy the heck out of it, and we like to think that all who get to share our cookies can feel a little of the magic in every bite. It is, by far, my favorite day of the year. Can you see why?
In honor of the 22nd Annual Calvano Cookie Day, I’m going to share my favorite Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe (for which I am responsible to bring to Cookie Day each year) here. These are my favorite because they stay soft and chewy on the inside for days (I promise). I have looked high and low for choc chip cookies that are made with real butter that don’t end up crispy, and these are them. Please enjoy them all year ’round, and may your new year be filled with all kind of Cookies and the Spirit of Cookie Day!