Sweet tradition: New children’s book shares Hot Sulphur resident’s holiday cookie tradition
For longer than 65-year-old Jon Hagar has been alive his family has celebrated Christmas by making gingerbread cookie ornaments for their tree and others.
It started when Hagar’s mother, Susan Hagar Ewing, was just three years old and living through the Great Depression. Her family had cut down a Christmas tree, but was too poor to afford ornaments, so instead Hagar’s grandmother, Irene Glenn, was inspired by a German tradition of decorating the tree with gingerbread.
Using children’s books, Glenn traced popular characters to outline the cookies and then elaborately decorated them with icing. Little did she know how it would create a family legacy lasting decades.
“My mother made the cookies every year when I was growing up,” Hagar, who lives in Hot Sulphur Springs, said. “I just feel closeness to (my grandmother) and my mother from that.”
Hagar’s family Christmas tradition has become the subject of his first children’s ebook, which him and his wife, Laura Hagar, self-published through Amazon. The ebook, “A Christmas Story: The cookies that made a family,” is aimed at kids ages three to seven and includes the family recipe for gingerbread.
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Hagar’s mother died last year and to honor her memory, he decided to share the incredible story of his family’s tradition with as many people as possible.
“It’s more a memorial to my mother in a lot of ways,” he said. “I was like well, maybe there’s a good story here.”
According to Hagar, he might not be alive without the cookies. Friends of the family encouraged Glenn to sell the cookies when money was tight and, in 1940, she opened a small store at Rockefeller Center in New York City, where the cookies were so popular they frequently sold out.
“As the story kind of tells, it really is responsible for my being here,” he said. “That’s a big motivation in terms of tradition.”
After the cookies gained notoriety, they were featured in Better Homes and Gardens and the New York Herald Tribune. And when Glenn could no longer make the cookies to sell, the tradition lived on within the family and the friends they shared it with.
“We still hang a few, we’ve always done that, and it was always kind of a tradition to give them to close friends and family,” he said. “The cookies have touched a lot of people, including people, they were quite popular in New York City evidently.”
To keep the tradition rooted in family history, Hagar said he and his brothers each have some of the original utensils his grandmother made the cookies with, including a blue-striped bowl, a pastry board, stencil knife and the original cookie cutters Hagar’s great-grandfather crafted from wood and brass.
And while it’s easy to recognize the artistry of the cookies, Hagar said they also taste good.
The cookies have touched a lot of people, he said, explaining that his favorite memories are sharing them with friends and neighbors.
“I think just the amazement of giving the cookies to people that have never seen them or anything like them,” he said. “That’s the part I certainly remember most.”
Hagar said he has been surprised by the response friends and neighbors have had to the story. If the book is successful, Hagar said he is considering writing a more in-depth one aimed for older kids and adults, but ultimately it’s not about the money.
“I think to have the story be out there, maybe interest a few people in the story, and not lose the family history to the march of time,” he said.
Get a copy of “A Christmas Story: The cookies that made a family” here.
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