Finding Joy in Christmas Cookies (and in Jesus)

Everyone has their own fun family traditions around the holidays. I have always LOVED my family’s traditions, and last year I did my best to keep them up even though I was living on the other side of the world away from my family for the first time at Christmas. It just wasn’t the same though, even if it was a special day.

This year The Lord whispered to my heart that maybe I was holding on to the traditions too tightly, creating unrealistic expectations and setting myself up for disappointment once again. So, this year I have been trying to make things special in their own Cambodian-style way, not necessarily throwing out my favorite traditions but being okay with starting new ones and tweaking others. Here are a few examples:

– On Christmas morning my family always has special little boxes of cereal and cran-apple or cran-grape juice. No cereal for me this year, but get some cranberry juice and grape juice, mix it together and there you have it: a familiar Christmas treat.

– My mother always makes a whole bunch of super amazing Christmas cookies that are absolutely the best ever. I knew there was no way I could reproduce that magic here, but that didn’t mean throwing Christmas baking out the window all together! I managed to whip together a delightful batch of gingerbread cookies, full of all of the flavors of Christmas. I was also overjoyed when I realized we had all the ingredients to make homemade Turtles, a special candy we always liked to give my mom. This was made possible in large part due to the sweet Christmas gifts that were given to us by one of our supporting churches! Just for fun, I have included the recipe below.

– Christmas programs here are not really anything like they are in America, but that doesn’t mean singing “Silent Night” or Khmer carols can’t be special! This year I found joy in the fact that I could sing along, understand and read the words for myself. What a gift!

– We didn’t necessarily watch many Christmas movies as a family, we normally opted for another genre that we enjoyed all together. Kristin and I have found a few new holiday favorites this year that give us the opportunity to experience snow and Christmas trees and presents through the screen! I think this will become one of our yearly traditions.

While it may be hard to be away from loved ones at Christmas, God is so good to give sweet gifts and moments that remind us that He is near.

Homemade Turtle Candies recipe
8 oz. pecan halves
25 caramel squares
1/4 cup cream or half-and-half
16. oz. chopped chocolate, melted (dark or milk)
sea salt, optional for sprinking

Line baking sheets or platters with parchment paper.

Make small piles of pecans, 5 or 6 per pile, overlapping to reduce gaps.

Melt caramels and cream over low heat, stirring frequently. The mixture will be runny at first but will firm up quickly. Add 1 tablespoon caramel to each pile of pecans.

Melt chocolate, and add 2 tablespoons to each candy.

Add a pinch of sea salt if desired.

Allow to firm up before serving. Store in the fridge or freezer (or at room temperature in an air-tight container if you don’t live in the tropics).

I made a few candies using almonds (so as not to use up all our precious pecans). I also used a combination of dark and semi-sweet chocolate. If you like salty and sweet, adding just a hint of sea salt is so delicious! Also, you can melt the caramel and chocolate in the microwave if you are so inclined and if you own one, which we do not. Enjoy!

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