By: Mary Fran Bontempo
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 I put it off for as long as I can.

As a rule, the holidays enchant me. I take full advantage of the opportunity to indulge my spirit of excess and delight in the decorations, the music, even, for the most part, the gift buying. Yet one fixture of the holiday season never fails to fill me with dread and trepidation:

The baking of the Christmas cookies.

My grandfather was a baker by profession. Without exception, he created cakes and treats for every special celebration during the year, especially at Christmas.

Which is why, every December, I can hear him turning over in his grave and howling in protest. Because despite my most heroic efforts, I am the world’s worst baker.

Before every Chirstmas baking debacle, I’m routinely haunted by the Ghost of Christmas Cookies Past, who parades before my horrified eyes visions of burnt chocolate chips, mangled and misshapen sugar cookies and unrecognizable fruit bars. Bad enough, until followed by the image of my family and friends biting into one of my offerings, taking a healthy swig of whatever beverage is at hand and gamely grimacing, “Mmmm. Yummy,” while trying desperately to politely spit the offending confection into a nearby napkin.

Still, every year, about a week before Christmas, I haul out the cookie sheets, four pounds of butter, two dozen eggs, five pounds of sugar and flour, assorted sprinkles and that damn sugar cookie press and, in an effort to appease the Ghost of Christmas Cookies Present, I bake. And burn. And mangle. Then I house the entire mess in cookie tins, delightfully decorated and therefore entirely misleading as to their contents. I offer my culinary train wreck as dessert to visitors throughout the holidays as we painfully re-enact our annual charade.

Fortunately, my cooking skills aren’t quite as dismal as my baking blunders, so we never actually starve. And, not being a fan of self-flagellation, I limit my forays into baking to the month of December, content to be the queen of no-bake Jello pudding desserts the rest of the year. Sadly for my family, though, I feel compelled to bake at Christmas, whether due to my grandfather’s influence (which I’m certain he’d deny, were he here to defend himself), or the call to replicate magazine covers depicting all manner of perfect holiday confections.

True redemption for everyone, of course, lies in the visit from the Ghost of Christmas Cookies Yet to Come, who urges me annually to forgo the entire dismal baking process and purchase my sweets from Wegman’s, purveyor of delicious cookies to be had for the bargain price of $2.50 to $3.75 per package.

Should I, like Ebenezeer Scrooge, finally succumb and learn my lesson, a delicious Christmas will no doubt be had by all. And in the spirit of Tiny Tim, “God bless us, and the lack of home-baked Christmas cookies, everyone.”

Do you have a Christmas baking horror story? Click “comments” below, and share!