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Our gingerbread cookies wear bikinis.

It’s probably better to say it forthright, at the start of things, rather than string you along.

It started when we were little. Dozens and dozens of cookies were made in our kitchen in December. They made their way into old tins and new platters and eventually to cookie swaps and school functions, the office, the concerts at church and our seven closest neighbors’ front doors.

My mother loved to bake with us. At least that’s how I choose to remember it. I’m not planning to ask her about it, because I’m quite fond of the memories. Somehow, she managed to keep a clean house, let us children make giant floury messes, host parties and run ministries as if she were Mary Poppins herself. As if she loved it more than anything.
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I do wonder sometimes, if we all ceased lamenting about how much we’re failing, at least within ear shot of our progeny, if this kind of magic would hem together the threadbare edges of our children’s childhoods too? Perhaps they’d remember most the roaring laughter and the wild romps through the woods and the feeling of sticky dough across their foreheads.

Back to the bikinis, though.

So my mother mixes together the double, or triple batch of gingerbread. “Let’s start with gingerbread!” she’ll say blithely. She pretends to be quite careless and spontaneous about her homemaking, but really it’s her strict adherence to order that gives her that freedom. She always makes the gingerbread first so the dough can rest in the fridge a good hour. During this time she wipes the counters down, rinses her mixing bowl, and makes another batch. Rinse and repeat. One bowl, two sets of measuring cups (one for wet ingredients, one for dry) and a mixer. Clean between each batch, and somehow, in the midst of 3 dozen sets of 12 different recipes in process, her kitchen is cleaner than mine is at any given moment.
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When we finally roll the gingerbread out, we line up a metal gingerbread cookie cutters to the edge and cut their pudgy little bodies from the dough. Of course we mostly cut out gingerbread boys, but we must insist on a few of the Gingerbread women, so we can dress them up fancy. We bake them, being careful not to open the oven, getting those counters clean again while they bake.

When I look back I can see us baking in the Mills Road house, my sister and I shimmying back into the coveted corner of the bench that wrapped the table. We are small and there are sprinkles everywhere. I can see us older, after we’d moved to the house near the farm, and we are running and the dogs are barking, and maybe we’re chasing each other around the kitchen? We are almost teenagers.

I remember three winters ago, cousins teetering on a chair pulled up to the counter to add an ingredient. My mom looks a little tired, has the dough already made when we get there, but she lets the kids crack the eggs in and takes a dozen pictures of the delight spread across their little faces. All the memories smell of gingerbread, sound like the roar of the mixer, her laughter.

Okay, so the bikinis.

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We pipe the white frosting, or fill them in with bright colors. We make two pieces and one pieces, nothing too scandalous, looping generously around their rubenesque figures. We add belly buttons and sunglasses and flip-flops. We imagine Mrs. Smith’s eyes growing wide when she comes upon them among the Russian Tea Balls and Almond Spritz cookies at the church cookie swap. She’ll know the Quackenbushes brought them.

My mother insists on making a few classic Gingerbread Men for posterity’s sake. I imagine they feel a bit awkward in the Tupperware next to Gidget and Annette Funicello.

You’ll notice one gingerbread always wears a frown. I’m not sure about the reasoning behind this, but there will come a point during the holidays when handing a certain someone this particular cookie is most appropriate, and you’ll be glad you iced her that way. 

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When we began having children, we were so intentional in navigating what Christmas would look like in our house. I loved the simplicity of my husband’s family Christmases: four weeks of Advent readings and lingering through favorite hymns, earnest prayer, simple gifts, and raucous laughter that marked years of intentionality.

I shook off a lot of the zany traditions my family had established:  the bikini-clad gingerbread, the Chinese food on Christmas Eve, the way my parents each strung their preferred Christmas lights on the tree. (My mother  preferred the large colored bulbs of her childhood, and my father the classic white twinkles. They’d wire them to separate switches so they could turn the other’s off whenever they walked through the room.)

But as time goes by, I am picking up threads that were woven through the crazy: the deep joy that pulsed under the antics, the heart of hospitality that threw the doors open and invited anyone right into the happy chaos, the goodness of shared memories, sealed deep with cinnamon-scented laughter. So we’re making gingerbread cookies and icing them for a day at the beach. Who knows, I might even consider adding a string of colored lights to my refined little Christmas tree.

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Gingerbread Boys
Serves 30
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  1. 1 C. Margarine
  2. 1 C. Sugar
  3. 1 Egg
  4. 1 C. Molasses
  5. 2 T. Vinegar
  6. 5 C. Flour
  7. 1 1/2 tsp. Baking Soda
  8. 1/2 tsp. Salt
  9. 2-3 tsp. Ginger
  10. 1 tsp. cloves
  1. Cream first 5 ingredients.
  2. Slowly add dry ingredients, mix well.
  3. Chill dough for 3 hours.
  4. Roll dough out on floured surface.
  5. Cut gingerbread shapes.
  6. Place gingerbread boys on greased pan 1 inch apart
  7. Bake 5-7 minutes at 375 degrees.
  8. Keep an eye on bake time--they burn easily!
  9. Makes approx. 2 1/2 dozen.
  10. Cookies will remain soft.
Grace Table

Christmas Cookie exchange

Annie Barnett / Posts / Blog
Annie Barnett is an artist and child at heart who loves discovering beauty in ordinary places. When she's not making art, Annie can be found mothering three wildly fun little girls alongside her husband Ted; or perhaps writing; or experimenting with blueberries and goat cheese in the kitchen, preferably with friends gathered around. She writes sporadically at and shares her art at
  • Michele-Lyn Ault

    Buaha! Love this! You know, of course, after the “bikini” story you shared at RGT, I will never look at bikinis the same again. 😉

    December 1st, 2014 13:07
  • Anita

    What a beautiful story! I’m glad you’re adding the bikini-clad gingerbread people back to your Christmas time :).

    December 1st, 2014 13:34
  • Shelly Miller

    You know what this story reminds me of right? I will never forget the tears I wiped from my eyes while laughing over your storytelling, evah! Joy is your gift to the world Annie. I love this story and all the heartwarming, authenticity it brings along with it. Thanks for conjuring a smile first thing this morning. Not sure I’ll ever look at a gingerbread cookie the same.

    December 1st, 2014 13:39
    • Annie Barnett

      I loved that lunch, and all the laughter. Thanks for our sweet words, Shelly!

      December 1st, 2014 18:07
    • Kris Camealy

      LOL, I have been thinking about the same thing, Shelly! 😉

      December 1st, 2014 18:44
  • Lisha Epperson

    I love how you’ve decided to revisit some of the traditions you grew up with. I’ve worked to incorporate rituals to lock in special times. This year we’ll do our 2nd observance of Advent and weekly Christmas themed movie night. I’m loving the idea of chinese food on Christmas Eve. I may have to steal that one. Looking forward to saving this lineup of cookie goodness.

    December 1st, 2014 14:24
    • Annie Barnett

      Thanks, Lisha! The Chinese food for Christmas eve sort of evolved over time, but that’s a long story too! Here’s to making memories!

      December 1st, 2014 18:16
  • Kate Battistelli

    “You’ll notice one gingerbread always wears a frown.” I have a pretty good Idea who will be getting THAT cookie in my family this year! I adore that and you Annie. Oh and the bikinis and sunglasses, totally going on my gingerbread men this year! Hugs :))

    December 1st, 2014 15:03
    • Annie Barnett

      Thanks, Kate. You’re so wonderful! Happy gingerbread-making! I’ll be checking your blog for cookie recipes!

      December 1st, 2014 18:13
  • Leah Adams

    What a beautiful post! I love the gingerbread folks clothes. What a great idea! The older you grow, the more you will treasure those things of your childhood!

    December 1st, 2014 15:23
    • Annie Barnett

      I think that’s so true, Leah. Thanks so much for stopping reading!

      December 1st, 2014 18:12
  • Kamille Scellick

    I adore you even more (as if that is even possible considering how much I already did). I often see heaven and us around the fire listening to Jesus telling our tales (won’t that be a day). And I imagine him not talking about the “big” things we did to our human eyes as “kingdom indicators;” rather, he will tell the tale of a mama making gingerbread bikinis with her girls and the home of hospitality she birthed so naturally as a mighty deed (let’s replace mighty deed for miracle shall we). I love this story so so much and I love you more. I’m imagining how my kitchen can replicate this this month and always.

    December 1st, 2014 17:00
    • Annie Barnett

      The feeling is very mutual, Kamille. Can’t wait to see pictures of your girls’ creative gingerbread “clothes” – and you, friend, are a hospitality-birther (Is that a thing?), just like my mom. I love seeing that in the way you mother.

      December 1st, 2014 18:12
  • Jennifer Camp

    Annie, you are just joy! I can’t wait to show this to my daughter. Yes, to the playful heart! Yes to the quirky! Yes to the freedom of being ourselves and choosing to see the delight all around us! Bless you, dear sister! You invited me into something beautiful today. I’m going to cling to it and spread it all around.

    December 1st, 2014 17:37
    • Annie Barnett

      Thanks for your kind words, Jennifer. You’re such an encourager.

      December 1st, 2014 18:09
  • Laura Boggess

    *love*. Friend, you make me want to start some new traditions right now. This is just lovely and I’m smiling ear to ear. Happy Advent-ing, Annie.

    December 1st, 2014 17:44
    • Annie Barnett

      Thanks, Laura. Sending love your way!

      December 1st, 2014 18:08
  • Kris Camealy

    Annie, I love this glimpse into your family life, and how you carry this tradition on. I have been wanting to make gingerbread all day after reading this story. 🙂 LOVE your spirit, my friend. XO

    December 1st, 2014 18:44
    • Annie Barnett

      Love you, friend. Send me some gingerbread if you bake them!!!

      December 2nd, 2014 2:38
  • Michelle DeRusha

    This is just the cutest story ever. Love the bathing suit-clad cookies, and, especially, the story of your parents stringing the tree with different lights AND different switches so they could switch the other’s off – too funny! I love family quirks.

    December 1st, 2014 19:45
    • Annie Barnett

      Thanks, Michelle. I love family stories, and ours is definitely full of quirky ones! Hope your Advent is full of longings met & much joy!

      December 2nd, 2014 2:37
  • Jeanne Damoff

    This is delightful. Makes me want to come hang at your house for the holidays. 🙂 It also stirs happy memories of cookie baking and decorating — especially my daughter’s deliberate (and often bizarre) creations. This is one of my all-time favorites. Meet Che Guevara, the gingerbread man.

    December 1st, 2014 20:42
  • Christie Purifoy

    Annie, I love this post for so many reasons but maybe especially because it reminds me that there is no one, right way to do this season. That’s a reminder I really needed this week. Thank you.

    December 1st, 2014 21:01
    • Annie Barnett

      Thanks, Christie. That’s been a real comfort to me, letting go of that search for the one right way to mark the season. I’m grateful for the wild family I come from, the crazy traditions and all – and a deep love of Jesus at the center of it. And I’m grateful for the slower, meditative traditions we’ve built as a family too. All year long, and especially at Advent, we’re longing for Christ – Jesus in the midst of the joy and the grief, the party and the slow and steady. Always grateful for your perspective, Christie.

      December 2nd, 2014 2:35
  • Joy B. Rudolph

    Annie, I love your words here. The vivid descriptions made me wish I was there making cookies in your mama’s kitchen.

    I recognized your name but couldn’t place it and then I figured it out. I currently have “be loved” hanging in my living room.

    December 1st, 2014 21:10
    • Annie Barnett

      That’s so fun, Joy! And yes, I always prefer to be making cookies at my mom’s! Merry Christmas!

      December 2nd, 2014 2:31
  • Lori Harris

    Oh Annie! I LOVE this story! My tribe is still young and the memories from my childhood are not memories from the kitchen. This post made me smile this evening and it made me long for an afternoon filled with flour, sugar, and my six wild ones.
    Thank you~

    December 2nd, 2014 2:31
    • Annie Barnett

      Six wild ones in the kitchen – you rock, Lori! Happy memory-making!

      December 2nd, 2014 2:39
  • lindseyfoj

    You’re fun! And I miss you!

    December 2nd, 2014 2:49
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      November 15th, 2016 4:31
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  • Yvonne Reynolds

    The tree lights, oh my goodness, too funny!

    December 5th, 2014 6:18
  • Trina Holden

    Why am I not surprised your mom’s gingerbread cookies wear bikinis? This reminded me of the hilarity and joy of meeting your mother last winter. Thank you for sharing this story and hosting the cookie exchange!

    December 10th, 2014 15:08

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