Itís not the Christmas tree or the glowing lights on my house in December that makes it feel like the holidays. Itís not the stockings hanging on the fireplace, or staying up late at night wrapping presents after the kids have gone to bed.

I love those things and relish this time of year, but none of that brings back the memories of the Christmases I experienced as a child as much as one thing: The smell of hot lard.

My grandmother was a fantastic cook. Although at age 86, she says sheís ďretiredĒ and doesnít cook much anymore, for much of her life she was the type of cook who could whip up intricate dishes from memory without a recipe. She learned at a young age from her mother in their rural Minnesota farmhouse, where they had to feed their large family of seven and the farmhands, too.

The Christmas season meant baking season in my grandparentsí home. My grandmother would make trays of fudge, coconut, red-sugar dipped confections that looked like strawberries, white divinity and butterscotch haystacks. There would be chocolate-covered peanut clusters, chocolate pecan turtles and rosettes.

Ah, the rosettes. Fried in lard, the Scandinavian cookie has the smell of funnel cake but with a fragile, sugar-coated crispiness. As a child, my mother and grandmother required my sister and me to eat them outside, because otherwise weíd make too much of a crumbly mess.

For me, rosettes equal Christmas. Over the last few years, rosettes are a tradition Iíve continued since my grandmother no longer makes them. I donít require my kids to eat them outside like I once did, but instead my kids know that as Iím making them, if I mess up and the intricate star or snowflake cookie design is less than perfect, they get to eat the mistakes.

My 6-year-old son will hover around the kitchen on ďrosette day,Ē frequently asking if there are any messed up cookies he can eat. Iíve gotten better at peeling the delicate rosette off the hot iron shape with a fork, and so there are fewer ďmistakesĒ to be eaten, much to my sonís dismay. My oldest daughter, 8, loves to help, too, and she is my designated sugar-dipper. Although, sheís been begging to be promoted to dipping the irons in the lard. I told her sheís still too young for that. My grandmother didnít let me do it until I was grown. She needs to wait at least until middle school.

But this year, I decided to step up my holiday baking: Iím going to make the cookie platters like my grandmother used to do and give them to friends and teachers. I finished the rosettes last weekend, then followed with butterscotch haystacks and pecan pralines. My kids and I picked bags of pecans that had fallen from a neighborhood tree and I spent hours shelling them in November. Thereís not much more homemade than that.

Next, Iím thinking Iíll make potato candy and perhaps the strawberry-shaped coconut confections of my youth.

I am not an expert baker. Iím not even that good of a cook. But when it comes to the holidays, I want my kids to grow up eating the same kinds of treats I relished as a child. And the fact that my kitchen smells like fried lard is just an added benefit.

ó Lydia Seabol Avant writes The Mom Stop for The Tuscaloosa News. Reach her at lydia.seabolavant@tuscaloosanews.com.