Herding Goofballs: A Tradition Unlike Any Other

Josh Farnsworth
Pass the piping bag - if my kids left any frosting in it.

The green and red flow just kept coming.

A sugar cookie that once looked dense and bountiful was now looking wafer-thin as it drowned from the flood of Christmas-colored frosting and chocolate candies.

As my oldest son looked up from his piping bag, he lifted the now-30-pound cookie and took a bite - crumbs and pieces of candy cascading everywhere. From this moment, I knew two things were true for the foreseeable future:

1. He was going to be hyper and crash incredibly hard that evening.

2. The tradition will continue!

This sugar-inducing memory comes thanks to my favorite singular day of the year: my family’s holiday cookie bake. It’s a day that has cemented itself with legendary status amongst family and friends who have been fortunate enough to partake in this celebration.

It was a celebration started many generations ago on my mother’s side of the family, because...well, why not? While the energy level shifts with the personnel in attendance, it’s a day to say ‘yes’.

It’s a yes to much food and drink. Yes, to holiday games that my dad has personally researched and developed for months leading up to the event. Yes, to Christmas carols, which sometimes extend over the phone to others who cannot be in attendance. Yes, to the kids partying all afternoon.

And of course, ‘yes’ to decorating hundreds upon hundreds of holiday-shaped sugar cookies with enough sweet, sugary accessories to make Willy Wonka’s factory look like bake sale amateur hour.

When we had to collectively say ‘no’ last year due to COVID-19, it was a difficult day to stomach (even if my stomach may have celebrated just a little for not having to digest all the cookies for the next week or so). That makes this year’s arrival of my favorite day feel twice as exciting.

As much fun as the day is, however, I do have one confession: I go there scared every year.

Not because I am afraid when we sing “12 Days of Christmas”, I’ll be stuck with the 10 Lords-a-leaping part. I mean, come on, they are lords. They must have others who can leap for them, right? No, I fear my children not having the greatest of times. 

There is something baked into my DNA (much like a delicious cookie) that presents a crippling, childlike need to have the things I love for my kids to love and cherish equally. The first cookie bake that my oldest son could understand what the day was about, I probably checked in every 10 minutes to make sure the message was clear.

Me: Isn’t this great???!! Isn’t it?? Isn’t it??

Cooper: (continues to calmly lick frosting off fingers). Sure dad. Sure.

And that is part of my personal insanity. Here is a boy surrounded by candy, playing with his best friends at one of his favorite places in the world - my parents’ house. Goofiness on this day was not just suggested but highly recommended. This is adolescent Eden.

Yet, I found myself nervously attempting to reinforce his fun. This would happen days, weeks, months and even years later - reminding him about how much fun he had and would have next year. This was not just about this day either. Whether it was sports, vacationing in my favorite location, even turning the volume up whenever the Foo Fighters came on the radio so they could properly air-drum like I do to my favorite band. 

It was all part of this parental desperation to not only keep them present in my life, but front and center in theirs. This fear is not based on losing out on a part of Christmas. It’s about connection to yourself as a kid, a teen an adult and every past part of you that brought you joy. Those things we love - many of them at least - take root as we grow up.

Is there a cure for this type of insecurity? Indeed, I believe I have answers...

Decorate the cookie. Sing the carol. Have faith that they will see that joy and want to be a part of it. However you choose to celebrate this time of year, you may feel anxious, but you cannot live these amazing days with fear the tradition will die off. 

Live it. Frosting and all.

And if it does end, understand what made it the tradition you love - those goofballs you shared a table full of cookies with each December. I wasn’t there when my relatives came up with the idea for the cookie bake, but I know why they did it. “Why not?” More like, “Why not have one more excuse to come together?”

I hope you and yours are blessed to live out your own favorite holiday traditions where you get to say ‘yes’ to your childhood.

Pass the piping bag - if my kids left any frosting in it.

Josh Farnsworth is a husband, father of goofballs Cooper and Milo, goofball himself, and award-winning writer and columnist living in Worcester. He can be reached for column ideas at josh.farnsworth@yahoo.com.