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Davis, California

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Column: A Christmas Conspiracy

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring – except for the entire Sekishiro family, because Beth has poor time management skills.

It all started out so innocently, when I heard about a movement called the Advent Conspiracy. According to their website, AdventConspiracy.org, the No. 1 killer in the world is lack of clean water. Americans spend $450 billion on Christmas every single year. How much would it cost to make clean water available to every person on the planet? An estimated $10 billion. I don’t know how many Tickle-Me-Elmos that is, but I’m pretty sure if we each gave a few less totally useless presents (Grandma does not need a can opener shaped like a toucan), we could save millions of lives.

While a lot of our gifts are given out of guilt and a feeling of obligation, a lot are given out of love. So how does the Advent Conspiracy suggest expressing that love? By giving relationally. Go sledding, play board games, spend time together. Build up your family rather than the fort in your garage constructed of boxes of useless junk.

This was a prospect far more exciting than terraforming the moon. But to be honest, if I didn’t have my whole family on board with the conspiracy, I’d feel like a lame-o not giving anyone presents. So I recruited my brother and sister to make packages of baked goods for each family cluster among my relatives. It would be relatively low-cost, and making them together would be a great bonding experience for my siblings and me.

Or so I thought.

I masterminded my plan with the utmost diligence, seeking out the most adorable Christmas-themed desserts known to man. I got recipes for not just one, but TWO kinds of bread. But the crown jewel of my plan was: personalized sugar cookies.

I drew up a list of the 12 individuals getting cookies and assigned them a cookie shape according to their vocations and hobbies. Uncle Dave, who loves John Deere, would get a tractor cookie. For cousin Jeremy, a Dallas Cowboys fan, we’d make a football cookie. Come Christmas Day, three-year-old Anna would be munching on Dora the Explorer.

As we set the plan into motion, I declared myself Queen of the Kitchen and started delegating. My 13-year-old brother handled all things destructive: crushing peppermint, grating lemon zest, mashing bananas. My sister, 17, measured dry ingredients and minded the chocolate in the double boiler. (By the way, just because warming chocolate is still in the chip formation does not mean it is not burning. Don’t let your next baking adventure end in chocolatey tragedy.) And at the end, I would lovingly shape and frost each cookie into a masterpiece worthy of framing.

Other than massive cocoa attrition, things were going smoothly. But there was a hitch in the plan. We’d started baking a few days before leaving for the central coast, where the extended family was gathering for Christmas. If we frosted all the cookies at home, they were likely to get smushed in transit. No one wants a Tigger with a nose on his forehead. So we decided to make the cookies on Christmas Eve.

December 24th rolls around. I laze about the house, yell at my brother for not showering more often and head out the door for groceries. Time is running out, so I buy cookie mix instead of the raw ingredients. Apparently, time is also running out for 500 other people at Safeway, because the checkout stands are a madhouse. The couple in front of me showcases the true spirit of Christmas and lets me cut them in line. But by the time I get back to Grandma’s house, it’s too late. We’ve got a family dinner to leave for in minutes. The cookies will have to wait.

Fast forward to 9 p.m. We’re back at Grandma’s, and it’s go time. Unfortunately, my Christmas Eve dinner has come back to visit me, and I can’t even sit up without feeling queasy. Christmas officially starts in three hours, and we have no cookies.

As I lay on the couch, I couldn’t believe what was happening. My parents, brother and sister stayed up cutting out, baking and frosting the cookies, and then cleaning up the kitchen we’d destroyed. They were up till two, working on the project I’d dreamed up but was too weak to complete. They finished the cookies and skittered off to bed.

That’s when it became real to me that the magic of Christmas isn’t tinsel and festive music. Sometimes, the magic of Christmas smells like barf in your nostrils, and sounds like your mom yelling when she smudges Strawberry Shortcake’s hat. It’s knowing that there’s someone there to cover for you when you can’t make it on your own. It’s rejoicing when the circumstances are easy, but sacrificing yourself without complaint when they’re not.

This Christmas, my family embraced the Advent Conspiracy and gave themselves. What greater gift could I have asked for?

BETH SEKISHIRO encourages you to check out the Advent Conspiracy for yourself. She can be reached at blseki@ucdavis.edu.


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