In Allison Glock’s annual family contest, half-baked ideas are sure to crumble, and the only thing sweeter than victory is the cage match of family bonding.
While other families embrace the holiday season by singing carols, cheering bowl games, and drinking too much eggnog, my family celebrates Kennedy-style by engaging in fierce competition, a heated bake-off called simply: The Cookie Contest.
The rules are thus: We use the same basic sugar cookie dough (a family recipe), which we prep and bake in my mother’s kitchen, so there can be no off-site amending or rehearsal. What you choose to do with said dough, and how you choose to decorate said cookie, determine the winner. And there is only one true winner, despite the introduction of “most improved” and “most Christmassy” categories, added ostensibly “so younger kids could have a better chance.” (My daughter Dixie calls them “pity wins.”)
Each contestant votes via blind ballot. You cannot choose your own cookie. But you can coerce your children into voting for yours if you are morally bankrupt—I mean—not confident in your actual cookie-crafting skills. (You know who you are, Ms. Runner-Up 2008.)
Everyone in the family must submit a cookie. Even the toddlers. Past entries have included a fleet of Blue Angels jets, Tom Cruise couch jumping, the MTA transit strike, Mr. Peanut, King Kong, and more irreverent submissions best left undetailed in a family-friendly publication. My mother makes a holly leaf with three Red Hot hearts in the corner every single year. She never wins. Somehow, this surprises her.
Some folks try to curry favor with so-called funny cookies. “Santa Claws” did well one Christmas, as did “Santa Baby” (Kris Kringle in a diaper), though I prefer my contest winners to excel on their own design merits.
The Cookie Contest is not about the cookies. For some (okay, me), it is about competition (okay, winning). For my youngest sister it is about cultivating tradition for her girls. For the kids it is a chance to eat unlimited quantities of buttercream icing. For my mother it is an opportunity to audition suitors—hers and her daughters’. Note to Mr. Suspension Bridge: A) You tried too hard, and B) Using tinfoil dowels instead of dough is frowned upon, which is why you were replaced by the dude who made the perfectly sensible Christmas tree with chocolate-shavings bark. Note to tree guy: Playing it safe never wins.
For all of us, it is a chance to sit in the same room for 10 hours, a bonding marathon that wouldn’t happen otherwise. “And you get to see other sides of the family through their cookies,” observes my daughter Matilda, astutely noting the Rorschachian element of the whole affair.
Last year Dixie got wise and made flattering portraits of the other competitors. Brilliant strategy. She came in second. Yes, I could have voted for her, but I have two girls competing. And, truth be told, her rendering of my hair was a little weak.
Besides, my sister Anne brought a ringer: her future husband, who was then confined to a wheelchair. Her own Tiny Tim. He made the “Fragile” lamp from A Christmas Story. The lamp that is a high-heeled leg. From a guy in a wheelchair. He won. I mean, how couldn’t he? If he hadn’t it would have been like kicking a kitten. In a wheelchair.
This year, Tim is healed. No mercy will be shown. And victory, like the cookies themselves, all the sweeter.