Kourabiedes-making and reflecting on the meaning of Christmas

Given the festive season and the yummy holiday treats that are filling up our homes, I wanted to get together with my grandmother Lella to help her make her famous kourabiedes. It’s tradition in our family that she makes a batch of these almond cookies coated in icing sugar every year (and then pesters everyone to take extra home because she made too many).

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Christmas is meant to be a time of love, an excuse to meet up with loved ones, and whether or not our society practices that, I’ll take any reason to spend some time with my grams. Plus, I was a little bit inspired by the Kindness Advent Calendar.

With one grandmother quietly slowing down, I realize how important it is to enjoy the conversations and activities while I still can with my other one. Grandma Lella (the cake master) and I made kourabiedes together 2 years ago and had a blast. Since seeing the warm response my blog post about my other grandma’s tsoureki experience received, it only seemed appropriate to document the kourabiedes-making with my Lellou and share my insights about dealing with the Christmas holidays. So, in my way, I’m creating an homage to the women who helped raise me.

This year, I wanted to have my two little cousins join in the fun because I know how cherished these memories will be when they grow older. I can’t say my grandmother was too thrilled about having an 11-year-old and a 9-year-old roaming around her kitchen though, as much as she loves us. Baking is serious business for most Cypriot grandmothers and when things aren’t done exactly as they’re used to, it can be a bit stressful. Yet she was happy to have us and deep down I know that the memory of these moments will always bring a smile to her face.

Deciding which date to pick for the baking took a while, as if it was a wedding. It couldn’t be too early in December so the kourapiedes are fresh, but not too late either so the house is prepped for when guests come over. The 15th surprisingly was convenient for all, so we gathered on a sunny Saturday afternoon.

By the time we went round, Lella had already baked half the batch. Truth be told, we were only allowed to shape the dough into kourabiepes, as grandma didn’t want anyone messing with her recipe, so she prepared it before we went. Even I, a fairly responsible 26-year-old was to only help her shape them.

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We put some music on and came up with new, fun ways to shape the cookies when the girls couldn’t get the half-moon shape right. And when I say new shapes, I mean it; hearts, squares, stars and even a gingerbread man.

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Though put 5 women in the kitchen and madness is bound to be around the corner. The girls were laughing loudly and took ages to shape the dough, some of the icing sugar was soon “decorating” the floor too, while my grandma was stressing out over the space in the oven tray. It all comes with family gatherings and varied age groups, though we wouldn’t change it, would we?

For a moment, I stepped back and tried to visualize the scene from the outside – this is something my mother taught me to help me get perspective on a situation and see things clearly and it has helped me even in difficult times. In my brief moment of being an observer, I saw my little cousins having fun with my grandma and felt happy that we were creating something all together.

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While our goodies were baking, with my grandma keeping a tight watch on the clock, I danced in the kitchen with my cousins and it felt good to be a bit silly and to spend time with them. For a few years in their early lives I was abroad and because I don’t know for how many more I’ll be in Cyprus before they hit the teenage drama, I remind myself to be with them.

What I’m trying to say with this little story and why you are still reading, is that the holidays aim to be jolly good fun, but for many it’s a difficult time of the year. Many feel lonely, anxious or overwhelmed over Christmas and it’s a good reminder to reach out to people, initiate, get creative and be kind one to another.

Make the time to see your loved ones, put your phone down and give them your full attention. You never know what fascinating stories you’ll hear or what traditions you’ll be reviving.

Merry Christmas!