OF COURSE Advent isn’t over yet! But the intrepid team of writers and editors here at Mockingbird are taking a well-deserved break for the next couple of weeks. The blog and the office are transitioning into holiday mode, so expect things to be slow around here till January 3. If you’re interested in charitable giving as the tax year concludes, a gift to help us close a gap in our budget would set us up for a strong start in 2019. Merry Christmas everyone!

1. Have you gotten your Christmas cookies done? It turns out your cookie-baking habit is significantly more telling than expected. According to Amanda Mull, young adults in our time are of two culinary minds. When it comes to three squares a day, Millennials are keeping Uber Eats and Grub Hub alive, eschewing the kitchen for takeout. But social media, a general air of anxiety, and a dash of performancism are turning Millennials into champion bakers. Case in point: viral Christmas cookie recipes:

Last winter, a recipe for salted chocolate-chunk shortbread cookies spread through my social circle like a carbohydrate epidemic. One of my friends kept seeing the cookies pop up on Instagram and, relenting to digital peer pressure, eventually made them. She brought half the batch to a dinner party, and then it was off to the races. For months, it felt as if every time I showed up to a party, someone else was pulling a Tupperware container out of a tote bag, full of what was eventually known among us as just The Cookies…

Millennials’ supposed aversion to daily cooking and lack of kitchen competency is well-worn fodder for concern trolling, but the generation’s actual relationship to food prep appears to be more complicated. Surveys concluding that people in their 20s and 30s cook less usually measure day-to-day meal preparation, which doesn’t tell the whole story. Young Americans’ long work hours might mean they’re less likely to come home every night in time to roast a chicken instead of ordering takeout, but many of them seem to have turned to weekend baking as a salve for the ambient anxiety of being alive in 2018. There’s a good reason for that: Baking actually can be really relaxing.

Yours truly wrote last week a sympathetic take on the rise of new parties in the age of social media: how gender reveals, pet birthdays, and expensive bachelor(ette) parties were both an exercise in measuring self-worth and also a fight against the disembodiment of the digital age. If Amanda Mull is right about a rise in Millennial baking prowess fueled by social media recipes, it’s a pattern that fits the same mold.

The essay suggests that in a disembodied world, baking is a stress-relieving hobby that allows a digital generation to craft and build with their hands. The outcome of that exercise also happens to be an excellent treat to share on social media. Performancism, social media, disembodiment: it’s all here. If only all those cookies could end up at a church potluck.

2. Speaking of Christmas gifts, NPR asked teachers to share the most memorable gifts they received from students. While the requisite apple is of course the stereotype, teachers wrote in to tell of gifts of PB&J sandwiches stuffed in white letter envelopes, jars of crude oil, faded change purses with pennies, a dead snake for the biology teacher, and not one, but two stories of gifted glass eyeballs! But my favorite of the bunch was one teacher’s story of gifted dentures:

Shannon Swain told us about a student she had at a correctional facility near Danville, Calif. She described the student as “gray and grizzled, gruff and grumpy” and told us he rarely smiled because he was embarrassed about his missing teeth.

“That began a bureaucratic adventure and a far-ranging search for free or very low-cost dental care, which we finally arranged at a dental college nearby,” Swain wrote.

Swain ultimately succeeded in getting that student a set of dentures, turning his scowls into beaming smiles.

Years after she left that job, a small, puzzling package arrived at Swain’s parents’ house, where she had been living when she worked at the correctional facility. It included a set of dentures, along with a note: “Dear Teach. I got some new teeth and thought you might like to have these, cuz it was the best present I ever got.”

Speaking of good gifts, this is a theologically accurate Christmas advertisement:

3. In the NYT this week, Molly Worthen, academic expert on Evangelicals (also interviewed in The Church Issue of The Mockingbird Magazine), compiles a large number of studies on “authoritarian tendencies,” a sociology field that has grown tremendously under the shadow of the Trump presidency. Why do people give up democracy and vote for authoritarian structures? After looking at Freud, biological determinism, and numerous examples of nature and nurture, Worthen concludes that the answer may be as old as Adam:

But in our current environment, where polarization is so unyielding, the apparent clarity of psychological and biological explanations becomes seductive. There is something entrancing and terrifying about any deterministic theory that predicts the role we are destined to play in society and lets you believe that you understand your opponent better than he understands himself.

“All the social sciences are brought to bear to try to explain all the evil that persists in the world, even though the liberal Enlightenment worldview says that we should be able to perfect things,” said Mr. Strouse, the Trump voter. “If everyone had access to the right education and the right therapist, they would make the right decision — we know that’s not going to happen. People have wicked tendencies.” In one of the ironies of history, as the social scientific portrait of humanity grows more psychological and irrational, it comes closer and closer to approximating the old Adam of traditional Christianity: a fallen, depraved creature, unable to see himself clearly except with the aid of a higher power.

The conclusions of political scientists should inspire humility rather than hubris. In the end, they have confirmed what so many observers of our species have long suspected: None of us are particularly free or rational creatures.

Speaking of sociology, this is also theologically accurate:

4. Just in time for Christmas, The Onion gives us this winner: “Woman Who Hasn’t Bought Anything Recently Wondering Why She’s Suddenly Happy.” And McSweeney’s “Twelve Days of Workplace Christmas, Annotated by the Corporate Communications Department” is a delightful jaunt through holiday workplace purgatory.

But the real humor this Christmas comes from the UK, where a mall Santa’s enthusiasm turned into a post-traumatic stress epsiode when the fire alarm went off:

A mother told local news outlet Cambridgeshire Live: “My friend’s little boy was upset as his dad was carrying him when Santa told them ‘to get the f*** out,'” adding that she had to tell her children that the man wasn’t the real Santa but an impostor who would be going on the ‘naughty list.’

Speaking of the naughty list, this commercial is theologically awful (and totally hilarious). A summit of the naughty kids:

5. It’s a story so strange, you wouldn’t believe it if it wasn’t documented. Check out the story of NBA-great-turned-great-commentator Charles Barkley’s friendship with Lin Wang, a cat litter scientist from Muscatine, Iowa.

“I was on a business trip,” my dad said, “and stayed in one of the hotels and was walking in the lobby, and I saw Charles Barkley.”

“I was in Sacramento speaking at a charity event,” Barkley said.

“So, I just went to say hi and take a picture with him,” my dad said.

“I was just sitting at the bar,” Barkley said. “And me and your dad were the only two people in there. And we just sit down and started talking.”

“He’s a super nice guy,” my dad said.

“And, before we know it, we looked at each other, like, ‘Yo, man, I’m hungry. Let’s go to dinner,’ ” Barkley said. “It turned into a two-hour dinner. And then we actually went back to the bar and just sit there and talked for another couple of hours. And the rest is history.”

So began an unlikely friendship as the two bonded over tough childhoods and their mutual pride in their kids’ success. For Barkley, professional success provided plenty of acquaintances, but no real friends, so whenever Barkley and Lin were in the same city, they reconnected. The tribute, written by Wang’s incredulous daughter, is the definition of touching. Friendship, love, and grace abound!

6. On the spiritual front, friends at Crackers and Grape Juice have been doing their own advent devotions, with the help of a bunch of Mbird contributors. Here’s a link to explore the series, because as we’ve mentioned, Advent isn’t over yet! In his post “Would I Even Recognize You,” 

When I returned home that evening, road weary from the commute and having just finished charge conference [Methodist-speak for annual business meeting] that same day, I told my wife about this event.  Jessica inquired, “How was your thing?” I told her what I just shared with you and added, “Someone called me a renaissance man today…can you believe that?” She replied, “What’s that supposed to mean? You can play video games on your phone and use the bathroom at the same time?” My eyes widened like I had just witnessed someone slap a baby in the face!

…silence…and then a huge belly laugh. I protested, “A prophet is never accepted in their hometown!” Talk about coming down off the high!?!?

I shared this exchange with a few of my friends from the circle by way of text message. They laughed hysterically and responded, “#marriage, #truelove…she knows your true self.” They’re all right. My friends are right, and my wife of 20 years is absolutely correct.

  • On the entertainment front, the both/and blog complied their list of unchristmassy Christmas movies. They’re 100% right about Children of Men. Also, love the Christmas insight about Away We Go.
  • This longread about a father who testified against his son, in the murder of his other son, reads like a Mississippi tale of Cain and Abel. Repentance, mercy, and forgiveness abound!
  • There’s nothing like the excellently crafted pan of a restaurant to put a smile on one’s erudite face. Here’s Eater’s Best Bad Restaurant Reviews of 2018. A sample: “To put it mildly, licking Plexiglas is more rewarding than some of the duds on the set menu.”
  • If you haven’t explored Charles Duhigg’s “The Real Roots of American Rage,” take a gander over the holiday. One of our writers will be tackling it in the New Year.