Italian-Americans love to show off their cooking (see Italian America), and at Christmastime in our Italian-American household, cookies were a major production. My grandmother baked nonstop in the days leading up to the holidays. She made Americanized chocolate chip and sugar cookies, but her specialty was traditional Italian cookies. She used a pastry bag to shape cherry almond stars and airy pignoli cookies, and an ice cream scoop to make perfectly round butter cookies, which she blanketed with rainbow sprinkles. They looked so nice that Uncle Joe used to tell her to pick up a shift at DeLuca’s, the local bakery. My favorites were her rainbow cookies, which we called stoplights: three thin cakes—one red, one green, one white, like the Italian flag—stacked on top of one another and cut into cubes, with raspberry jam between the layers and a veneer of semisweet chocolate on top.
Some years the kids would help her make the cookies, but what we really loved was helping her wrap them as gifts. The goal was to eat as many as you packaged. We wrapped the piles of cookies in cellophane right on Grandma’s china. If you received a gift of cookies, and you wanted to get another one next year, you made sure to wash and return the dish. Otherwise, you were off the list for good.