The Endless Promise of Christmas Magazines

'Tis the season for a baking plan and here I sit, surrounded by 25 years of Christmas magazines. The oldest ones date from 1980 and the newest one, well, I bought it last week. That means I've been optimistic about Christmas baking for more than a quarter of a century, and I'm no Martha Stewart. I can't believe it. I'm sicker than I thought, and that's saying something.

For one thing, why in the world am I still buying these things? If I preheated the oven right now and started sifting flour, I would die of old age before I could make half the recipes in this pile. And I still have several hundred cookbooks, including God only knows how many specifically about Christmas.

This massive 25-year stack, which lives on top of the cabinets in the breakfast room, is obscene, Christmas porn. Bad enough that I’ve saved them, which probably puts me in some twisted packrat category. But check out these cover taglines: "500 Merry Ideas." One-upped (well, 130-upped) by "630 Merry Ideas." Only to be outdone by "Christmas Magic: 705 Ideas." But the 1993 Women's Day blows them all out of the water with "1104 Ideas."

What is it with numbers? Do we really think they hold the key? Why else would I buy issue after issue with promises like: "Rooms that Say Christmas 65 Ways." "150 Easy Holiday Tips." (How easy would it be to do 150 anythings?) "160 Ways to Make Yours a Holiday Home." "200 Ideas for the Best Christmas Ever." "Over 200 Ideas for Your Best and Happiest Christmas Ever!" "Over 250 Ideas for Your Most Memorable and Heartwarming Christmas Ever!" "250+ Ideas to Make Your Holidays Merrier." "400 Ideas to Make Your Holidays Happier." "400+ Ideas to Light Up the Season." "456 Holiday Ideas." "508 Christmas Ideas." "557 Glorious Ideas." "The Glory of Christmas: 935 Ideas." "Hundreds of Magical Ideas."

We all know ideas are a dime a dozen. It’s the time, energy and creativity to implement ideas that make them valuable. To pretend you could even process all the information behind hundreds of ideas—“magical” or not—is to buy into the true meaning of Christmas: unmet expectations. You know what I really need? One great idea and a kitchen assistant.

I love the back covers of the magazines from the ‘80s that feature cigarette ads from More, Now, Vantage, Virginia they still make these? Heck, maybe those represent the 41 ways to stay thin promised by one cover: two packs plus an extra will certainly keep you away from the cookie dough.

Who am I kidding with this stash of Christmas past and present? I make the same things every year, and very few come from magazines or cookbooks. They come from index cards my mother gave me, back when she still baked. They're for coconut-honey balls, which I rolled in confectioner's sugar back in the '70s and still do, every year. If I make nothing else, I always make those. (They have no honey in them, but that's the name on the card and I’m sticking to it.)

It’s almost enough to send me to the recycling bin. But I can’t dump them now; they’re part of my Christmas tradition. And as any self-respecting Christmas magazine cover will tell you, it’s all about Tradition. Or, more likely, "247 Ways to Celebrate Your Traditions."

Originally published on December 1, 2006. Since then, I have finally dumped a lot of the magazines described here. Sunday I made seven dozen coconut-honey balls from the recipe on that ancient index card. These days a friend and I share the load, baking together over the course of about five hours. But that's a hellish story for another time.

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