INTRODUCTION The aroma of baking that fills my home in December is unlike that of any other time of year and heightens my excitement for the approaching holidays. Thinking about what lies ahead conjures up memories of being a child, when early every moment of the holiday season seemed warm and festive. I was born and brought up in Sweden, where my parents built a house next door to my grandmother's home. The nearest town was six miles away, so my childhood was spent in the countryside. I learned to bake from a young age, and as a teenager I worked in a konditori (bakery) in that nearby small town. From the age of thirteen, children in Sweden can take two weeks every semester to do practical training at a local workplace, which is how I came to be at the Holgers Konditori. Opened in 1903, the bakery is located in the main square and is where everyone in town goes for special-occasion cakes, cookies, and buns. When I finished my training, Holgers offered me a summer job, and I worked there every summer. I loved every minute. That love of baking extended into my home life, particularly around the holidays. Once autumn arrived, which brought fewer daylight hours, inside activities like baking became the norm. Come winter, nighttime fell early, and any opportunity to celebrate and decorate--especially with lights--helped brighten the darkest time of year. In Sweden, holiday celebrations start early and include many festivities, such as the Advent season, which begins on the fourth Sunday preceding Christmas. One of my favorite celebrations is St. Lucia Day, in which girls dressed in white lead a candlelight procession, and everyone in the group sings and pepparkakor, a gingery cookie with plenty of snap (you'll find the recipe on page 88), is served. A lot of baking is done early in December, when breads, cakes, cookies, and confections are made and then stored for the upcoming celebrations. I remember eating many of these treats only during the holidays, so just making them would put you in the spirit of the season. Excerpted from Holiday Cookies: Showstopping Recipes to Sweeten the Season by Elisabet der Nederlanden All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.