Our links to history

Ellen Emery

Each of you probably has Christmas customs that are meaningful to your family, traditions that have been passed from generation to generation.

Some families unwrap gifts on Christmas Eve with others waiting until Christmas morning. Perhaps there are ornaments made by a 3-year-old who is now a grown adult.

Each year, I wear an angel made with love from painted plaster of Paris and strung beads as a necklace. The necklace was made by a then-young girl named Laura, perhaps 5 years old. The child is now an adult.

I treasure the necklace and the memory of receiving this gift made and given in love. Wearing that angel has become a tradition for me each Christmas Eve.

My grandmother was born and grew up in Norway. When she was 16 years old, she came with a friend to America. She came into Ellis Island and loved “The lady in the harbor,” the name she called the Statue of Liberty.

My grandmother worked diligently to earn a living. She met my grandfather; they married and moved to Skaneateles. It was in her kitchen in their home in Skaneateles where I learned about the Norwegian traditions she brought with her.

One of those traditions was making a Christmas cookie, Fathigmandsbakkelse. This is the name of her Norwegian Christmas cookie written in her handwriting at the top of the recipe shared with my mother that is now in my recipe box.

My grandmother would laugh as she rolled out the dough telling us about the cookie. The name, she explained, meant “poor man’s cookie.” But with four eggs in the recipe and heavy cream, too, our grandmother pointed out no poor man could afford to make them.

This week, I looked up our family tradition to learn more about the Norwegian cookie. I learned the correct spelling is Fattigmann Bakkels, a recipe that has been enjoyed for more than 100 years. It is known as the “poor man’s cake,” I read.

My grandmother was right. This Norwegian cookie is “essential” for Christmas. It always was in our home.

The Fattigmanns (as we called them) were rolled out and cut into thin strips. A slit was then cut in the center of each strip with each one twisted into the slit and turned inside out. Making these cookies that our grandmother had made in her homeland with her mother became our tradition.

Later, I made them with our mother in our home in Danby, south of Ithaca. The last few years I have had the joy of making Fattigmanns with our granddaughter Lindsay in their home in Chappaqua, near New York City. Our granddaughter had the touch — turning the cookies perfectly to form the twisted band of rich cookie dough.

Last year as our granddaughter and I made the Norwegian cookies, my niece Diva in California also was making them, remembering her grandmother and Fattigmanns. Pictures and videos were sent from coast to coast as the tradition was shared.

This year, like most of you, we were home. Staying safe at home was a good thing for all of us.

This meant, though, there would be no cookie-making with our granddaughter. We had delicious homemade cookies our daughter-in-law had made and sent to us. I decided we didn’t need to make cookies this year.

The past few days, my niece in California shared pictures of the Fattigmanns she had made. They were beautiful.

I was touched as I thought about her remembrance of our family tradition. Our shopping list this week included eggs and heavy cream.

And on Saturday, I recruited The Gardener to assist with deep fat frying. (The recipe I read online told me “lard was used for frying,” which is what my grandmother always used. The frying this year was with vegetable oil). Saturday, we reached to the back of the cupboard and found my grandmother’s cast iron kettle — perfect for frying and our tradition continued.

We didn’t need cookies for eating and the boxes had all been sent, but there was something wonderful about preparing these cookies. As I rolled the dough and twisted each cookie into shape, I remembered my grandmother, my mother and granddaughter:

Our family tradition continued — quietly this year in our home, but we remembered. For me that was a very good thing.

Hopefully, you too continued family traditions this year. If not, as we celebrate the new year this week, I hope you will remember a family tradition and make sure they are continued with the next generation.


Our friend Jean Howell from Potsdam celebrated her birthday yesterday. What a lovely woman.

Although my wishes are belated by a day, they are most sincere. My warmest birthday wishes are sent your way, Mrs. Howell. Happy Birthday and wishes for only the best in the new year.


My drive-through visits at Dunkin’ and Tim Hortons always include a cup of coffee. What a joy it is to sip the delicious brew as I drive home or to Massena for a pickup order or a stop at the post office (socially distancing complete with a mask!).

Recently in a stop at Tim Hortons at the Western Door, my medium cup of coffee was handed through the window while the pleasant young woman completed my order. I was so pleased because the thoughtful clerk (or is she a waitress?) had placed a cardboard coffee sleeve on the cup.

I drink my coffee black, which I love to drink while it is steaming hot. This proves to be problematic at times when the cardboard cup (which I am so pleased to use) is hot as well.

“It’s the most wonderful,” the words on the coffee cup read above the sleeve. I agreed, delighted to think about how wonderful it was that I could stop on a weekday morning to purchase a gift for a friend and enjoy a cup of coffee. I was pleased that Tim Hortons had centered my thoughts on “the most wonderful”!

After finishing my cup of coffee at home, I removed the sleeve (for reusing) and smiled as I saw the entire phrase. On my holiday Tim Hortons cup was a beautiful red and green decorated Canadian maple leaf. The phrase was a marvelous play on words as it stated, “It’s the most wonderful Tim’s of the year!”

I smiled and agreed! On a chilly December morning, a cup of coffee purchased through a drive-through window in the warmth of my car was indeed “The most wonderful Tim’s of the Year!”


“What a wonderful thought it is that some of the best days of our lives haven’t even happened yet.”

— Anne Frank

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