After Thanksgiving my sister, Carol, has a tradition of having my Mom, Mary Anne, and step-Dad, Walt, over to create “Sand Tarts”.

This recipe was given to my Grandma Soehner when she lived in Cumberland, Md., during the 1930s. The cookies are brown sugar and flour-based, sprinkled with a mixture of cinnamon and sugar that creates the illusion of “sand”. It would be the best darn “sand” a person has ever tasted! Although the ingredients are simple, the dough needs to chill in the refrigerator overnight, and consequently needs an earlier start before baking.

Carol and Mom’s tradition is for Mom to bring the chilled cookie dough, and then involve the grandchildren in rolling out the dough, cutting out the cookie in various Christmas-y shapes, painting an egg wash on the cut-out, placing a halved almond in the middle, then shaking the cinnamon/sugar mixture all over the unbaked cookie.

Grandma’s recipe card from the 1930’s

The kids know their positions. A bit of negotiation is involved in whether a person is a “roller” or a “cutter” or an “egg wash guy”, and who gets to vigorously shake the sugar sand on the cookies. Carol takes the oven duty: seven minutes in a quick oven. In my grandmother’s 1930s recipe, she mixed equal parts of flour and brown sugar, some butter and a couple eggs until it looked right to her. We still use that recipe and still have the card on which she wrote it. A “quick oven” needed to be translated to 375 degrees, and minutes added for the bake time. Today we use parchment paper on the baking sheets, not flour.

I am normally not present for this, especially with my many years of ministry in Detroit. But now as a Cincinnati local, I’m assigned by my youngest nephew, Ray, the task of being an additional “roller”. Oh, and cutter of the shapes.

This year as I’m rolling, I hear my name called out by my Mom in a way I haven’t heard for years, “Mark Richard”! Turns out I’m rolling the dough too thin – which could result in burnt cookies.

We’re all kids again – my Mom, my sister and I, the nieces and nephews – laughing, “sneaking” the first cookie, listening to favorite holiday songs, tossing bits of dough at each other. Santa’s production line works: There are bags of cookies to be given as gifts.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

(Fr. Mark Soehner, Provincial Minister for St. John the Baptist Province, lives in Cincinnati.)

Start your own family traditions with our recipe for Sand Tarts.

Fr. Mark with his mother and nieces and nephew