Today my writing group met. Our earth-sheltered house on Minister Hill was the meeting place, and I actually cleaned. It does happen, but it, like everything else at our Vermont homestead has a season. And, even though this season begins with a mad cleaning session, it also happens to be my favorite.
There is always one gathering or dinner party that is my line of demarcation between the busy late summer and early fall harvest season and the comparative repose of late autumn. That get together is the first event of the season. It motivates me to get the house presentable as well as happily habitable as our focus turns indoors. And it is the herald of weeks and weekends of small dinner parties, family reunions, and drop-in Kaffee Klatches.
This is my soup season. The cookie jar is always full, and the kitchen island is always littered with gift basket booty and pastries. Even the housework becomes enjoyable (for a time). This is the season my cousin started for me years ago when we lived in Germany, and, unlike the chaos of Christmas and Hannukah that will soon follow, it is not a time of trappings and tension.
Thing1 was born in Germany near Frankfurt, and when he was a few months old we went to visit my cousin in Freiburg. It was after American Thanksgiving (which some Germans celebrate but businesses have not turned into the starting bell for the Christmas shopping pandemonium yet) and the quaint, kitschy Christmas Markets that grace the centers of every Germany town for the month of December were just beginning to setup in Freiburg as we arrived on Saturday night.
It was late, and with Thing1 nursing constantly, we had all decided dinner at home was the best way to enjoy our time together. My cousin is an amazing and adventurous cook, so I was not surprised by the gourmet meal she set before us. I was, however, amazed when, after we cleared the dishes, she pulled out an old blue cookbook printed with the old German Fraktur font.
My thoroughly modern and cosmopolitan cousin pulled on an apron and began a baking frenzy I had never seen before. When the smoke cleared, there were plates of powder-sugar-cover cookies, chocolate treats and all sorts of kuchen and plåtzchen on the counter. In between mouthfuls of cookie, I asked what had prompted this display of domesticity. She chuckled and said that her mom did it at the beginning of the season too.
Suddenly a vague recollection of another German Christmas years earlier began to rise up through my food-fog. I remembered a coffee table laden with baked treats and cinnamon-spiced wine. I warmly recalled an advent ring with candles lit by my normally very secular aunt and uncle. I remembered – and began to anticipate -Sundays marked by quiet conversation and music. But mostly I remembered how they had introduced us to their sacred seasonal ritual. It was a dedicated to communing, not with shopping malls and sales clerks, but with family and friends.
So now that the dishes are cleared from the first casual, cozy assembly, I’m feeling a bit of that same warmth. I’ve made a bed for the next guest. Tomorrow, I’ll continue nursing the soup on the stove. I’ll bake and ice and sprinkle, thinking of the family who inspired this tradition for us and of the next few busy weeks when we’ll continue the with new friends. And with each cookie in the jar I’ll mentally light a candle to welcome the season.