A Holiday Story


 Some Christmas traditions are carefully handed down from one generation to the next; others develop gradually, usually because of something we did that ends up blessing us in some powerful way. Our family’s favorite Christmas tradition is one of the latter.

When my husband and I moved some years ago, we were totally overwhelmed and exhausted by his new medical practice, stacks of boxes to unpack, and keeping up with three small children. We both wanted to be parents who created wonderful family memories, but with so many commitments it seemed impossible. Luckily, dozens of our new friends ready to lend a hand lived nearby. Our next-door neighbors on one side welcomed our middle son for backyard gardening and an occasional trip to town. Our neighbors on the other side kept their kitchen door open for cookies and punch. Down the street was a man who loved when the children helped him with jigsaw puzzles. Nearby was another precious couple who made each of our children birthday cakes, and around the corner was Mrs. Hooper, a widow who sat near us at church and loved having company.  

One year a few days before Christmas, on a night when my husband was able to get from the hospital to be with us, I decided to repay the many favors our neighbors had done for us. I bundled the children in their warmest clothes and took out my guitar. Together, we walked the neighborhood, ringing doorbells and singing carols to the wonderful people who had become our adopted grandparents.  Everyone was so glad to see us! Some invited us in; others gave us candy canes or hot chocolate. It was so much fun we decided to do the same every year.  One holiday evening as we finished our night of caroling at Mrs. Hooper’s house, singing the last chorus of We Wish You a Merry Christmas, Mrs. Hooper opened her door and handed us a metal pie pan wrapped in foil. An envelope was taped to the top of the frozen contents.  “Merry Christmas!” Mrs. Hooper said, smiling. “You’re so busy, and my own children have always loved these.”

As soon as we got home, we read the note:  Keep this pan in the freezer.  During the day on Christmas Eve, move it to the refrigerator. On Christmas morning, as soon as the first child is awake, set these out in a warm place to rise. By the time all the presents are open, it will be ready to go in the oven. Merry Christmas!

My children immediately lifted the foil and peeked inside. It was full of frozen homemade cinnamon rolls! Not only did I not have time to bake, I didn’t know the first thing about how to make homemade cinnamon rolls! It was a perfect gift.

A few days later, as we wrapped presents on Christmas Eve, I took the foil pan out of the freezer as directed. At our Christmas Eve church service that evening, we sat with Mrs. Hooper and her family. My children excitedly told Mrs. Hooper they couldn’t wait to eat the cinnamon rolls the next morning. That night, when I put the kids into bed to listen for Santa’s sleigh, they reminded me not to forget about our special breakfast. I promised I wouldn’t, but by the time my husband and I had finished putting toys together and setting gifts under the tree, I was exhausted. I fell into bed, forgetting to set the alarm. The next thing I knew, light was streaming in the windows and three small children were jumping up and down beside our bed.

“Get up!” They shouted. “Santa came! It’s time to take out the rolls!”  As they scrambled into the den to see what was under the tree, I quickly set the cinnamon rolls on top of the dryer and turned it on. In the den, we all took turns opening packages and showing everyone our gifts. When everything was cleaned up, we remembered the rolls. Everyone ran to check.  “Wow!” My two-year-old son Patrick shouted.  “It’s magic!” his big brother Andy added.  “Look how big they are!”  With the heat of the dryer, the rolls had puffed up inside the pan. Once in the oven, the magic continued, filling the kitchen with the delicious warmth of butter and cinnamon.

At our Christmas table that morning, still exhausted, I was grateful to Mrs. Hooper. As we bit into the delicious rolls, I looked around the table at the precious, sugary faces and tears came to my eyes. I had never known either of my grandmothers, but I was sure this must be one of the best parts of having a grandmother, even an adopted one.  As soon as breakfast was over, we called to thank Mrs. Hooper and to let the children tell her about their other Christmas gifts. Mrs. Hooper was delighted.

For the next decade, well in advance of Christmas Eve, Mrs. Hooper called us to pick up our pan of Christmas cinnamon rolls. And without fail, we called her on Christmas Day to thank her for her breakfast rolls and to share our holiday with her.   Then one year, my husband, who also doubled as the physician for many our adopted grandparents, told us that baking had become too much for Mrs. Hooper.  “I don’t think she’s up to making our cinnamon rolls this year,” he said quietly.

My children, college students by then, were heartbroken. Mrs. Hooper’s rolls and the Christmas morning phone call had become a very important part of our family’s holiday routine. The following year, my daughter, Kate, home from school for the holidays, took up the challenge.  “We will just have to learn to make cinnamon rolls ourselves,” she explained.  And so we did! My kitchen ended up completely dusted with flour by the many less-than-appetizing batches we tried in our efforts to get them “just like Mrs. Hooper’s.” Even the men in our family got into the act, rolling out the dough and devising an extra sweet mixture to spread inside the spirals. Best of all, it was something fun we could do together.

These days, with in-law children added to our family, we have many Christmas traditions we love: caroling, church services, story-themed trees, gingerbread houses and toys for grown-up kids. Still, our favorite tradition is spending one day each December in the kitchen mixing and kneading and rolling dough, and one hour each Christmas morning at the breakfast table together, telling stories and delighting in the remembered taste of friendship.  The best part of our story is that a good deed came full circle the next year when my children delivered delicious “Mrs. Hooper Cinnamon Rolls” to Mrs. Hooper herself!!

This true story first appeared in the anthology, Christmas Traditions. Contact Anne about sharing her stories at your next event!

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