As every Scandinavian grandmother will tell you, it's best to begin the Christmas baking season no later (and preferably earlier!) than the weekend after Halloween. Part of this is a matter of convenience combined with a desire for abundance - most specialty cookies and cakes freeze incredibly well and can be brought out and served, on spectacularly varied dessert plates, whenever guests arrive. Sometimes time is also required, though, so that baked goods like fruited cakes and ginger cookies can reach their full depth of flavor and texture - if properly stored, many homemade baked treats improve by sitting for a few days or weeks.
That's why I'll be getting a start on my Scandinavian Christmas cookies this week (it's traditional to serve at least seven varieties on Scandinavian tables). Paired with a cup of hot chocolate or glogg (depending upon the ages of my guests), they'll help to make December's dark days bright.
Christmas cookie image © 2012 Kari Diehl, licensed to About.com.