The Making of Christmas Mother-Daughter Tradition

This tasty date balls recipe was perfect for her two sous-chefs with little hands.

Posted in , Oct 15, 2020

Katie Turner and her daughters. Photo credit: Katie Turner

I thought I loved Christmas as much as anyone ever could, but when our daughter Elizabeth was born, my holiday cheer jumped to a new level. My husband, Wyman, and I hung her stocking between ours on the mantel and then we stuffed it to overflowing. Four years later we added a stocking for baby Abbey and spent evenings by the tree with cocoa and carols. It felt good to sit after full days of mothering a toddler and a newborn during the holiday rush.

But the Christmas before Abbey was born, Elizabeth, a “big girl” at three, wanted to help Mommy with all the preparations. Our tree wound up with the ornaments displayed in a clump on the bottom—an eye-catching focal point for our guests. Some of our ceramic Dickens’ Village characters literally lost their heads (or feet) in the process.

That year I also let Elizabeth put the stamps on the Christmas cards. What could go wrong? Every single stamp was placed—with care—at a different angle in a different spot, perhaps upside down and three inches from the edge or on the back side of the envelope entirely. I’m still not sure how many of those cards actually reached their intended recipients.

We moved on to wrapping presents, which Elizabeth did with flair, using socks and glitter under Wyman’s watchful eye. “This one needs another bow!” Where it might fit, with the others fighting for space, nobody knew, but she did make use of every bow in the house. Elizabeth’s personal style would have no equal on Pinterest.

I’d signed my name to the gift tags ahead of time with “with love from Katie and,” so Wyman could write the rest. But Elizabeth’s helpful hands were too fast for anyone to keep up with, and many of the artfully wrapped gifts waited under our tree to be handed out “with love from Katie and.”

After the wrapping was finished, it was time for “Katie and” to start the baking. I had the perfect recipe in mind for Elizabeth. So far, her kitchen duties had been limited to crushing crackers and putting them on top of a casserole before it went into the oven. A mess, sure, but a safe one. She was now ready to put the finishing touch on my mother’s famous date nut balls by rolling them in powdered sugar, just like I had done when I was her age.

I moved purposefully into the kitchen with my big pregnant belly. I chopped the nuts, Wyman stirred the candy mixture on the stove and Elizabeth waited patiently at the table for her turn to shine. Once the mixture was ready and cooled down enough to handle, it was Mommy and Daddy’s job to roll one dollop at a time between our palms and drop the balls on a plate. Wyman was a bit overzealous and instead of using a light rolling motion with his palms, he squeezed the mixture so hard that the butter escaped it and ran down his forearms. Elizabeth and I reassigned him to the role of documentary photographer, and the actual date balls became a mother-daughter thing, just the way they’d started out with my mom and me. By the time we were done, it looked like it had snowed in our kitchen. No matter. Elizabeth’s first batch of date balls was a raging success.

Now Abbey’s old enough to join our mother-daughters tradition. The girls finish off the job by licking their fingers. “What’s your favorite part of making date balls together?” I asked them recently. I just knew the answer would be the tasty powdered sugar, but it wasn’t. “We like to eat them!” they said.

You will too.

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