Adapting Holiday Traditions: COVID, Customs and Cookies at Promega

Adaptation: In biology and ecology, the process or state of adjusting or changing to become more suited to an environment.    

Holiday traditions are certainly taking new forms this year as we all determine how to safely celebrate during a pandemic. It goes without saying that it’s been a tough year. Customs and rituals, large and small, bring peace and comfort. We need those more than ever now, so the challenge becomes finding new ways to honor valued traditions.

Chuck York, VP Manufacturing delivers individually packaged cookies to R&D Scientists on the Promega Madison Campus, adapting this holiday tradition to the life during a pandemic.
This year’s cookie delivery happened with a twist. Chuck York, VP Manufacturing delivers individually packaged cookies to R&D Scientists on the Promega Madison Campus.

Today, we would like to share how one dearly held Promega Madison tradition was able to endure in our COVID-19 world. Adaptation is key. And butter and sugar help, too.

Elaine Day

Promega employees this week were surprised and deeply moved to find that their beloved “Elaine Day” had not become yet another casualty of the pandemic.

“This has been such a difficult year,” says Senior QA Scientist Sue Wigdal. “I had assumed, sadly, that Elaine Day would be cancelled, but to be able to have it and all the thoughtfulness and deliciousness that it brings, was amazing.”  

What is Elaine Day? A few years ago, Promega Connections revealed to our readers the secrets of the Promega Cooke Elf. To be completely accurate, we are really talking about a family of elves, but more on that later.

Every year Elaine York, along with husband Chuck York, Vice President of Manufacturing Operations, bake thousands (yep, thousands) of scratch-made Christmas cookies in their Wisconsin kitchen for Chuck’s truly grateful Promega Madison coworkers. The day Chuck delivers all those tasty, much-anticipated treats to colleagues has become known as “Elaine Day.” (Be sure to check out the 2017 post to learn more about how the York’s pull off this incredible feat.)

“Nothing brings in the Christmas spirit better than care, love, and random acts of kindness, and the York family hits each one of them every year by making and bringing in these amazing Holiday cookies,” says Packaging Technician Sam Cali. “Even without knowing them, they provide me with a ray of sunshine in the otherwise dreary Wisconsin winter.”

Adapting a Holiday Tradition During COVID

The York family has been hard at work again this year, baking more than 3900 snickerdoodle truffles, cookie dough truffles, buckeyes, caramels, white chocolate cherries, red velvets, fudge, pecan cups, snowballs, and Butterdream cookies, to name a few, for employees. The tradition continued, but with a few pandemic-related adaptations.

First Elaine, an avid baker for over 40 years, wanted to make this year’s cookie collection extra special by including more decorated cut-out cookies than past years. This is no small task since each mitten, tree or snowman shaped sugar cookie needed to be individually decorated by hand with colored icings, sugars and various other confections. Talk about quality and attention to detail!

This years' cookie deliveries came in individual packages rather than large trays in order to adapt this holiday tradition.

Elaine and Chuck enlisted the help of their four adult children to decorate the more than 900 cut-out cookies for this year’s delivery. Each York family member, along with their partner, signed up for a shift or two to complete the monumental task. It was truly a family (and sometimes competitive) affair! This year’s total cookie count is a bit lower than previous years, but the process took much more time because of the additional decorated cookies.

Next, Elaine and Chuck decided to forgo the usual large cookie platters meant to be shared among teams and opted for containers of cookies packaged in individual servings. Chuck delivered the cookies this week to the more than 600 employees working onsite supporting product manufacturing, quality and R&D.

Gratitude for Finding a New Way to Keep This Treasured Tradition

“Knowing that delicious treats will be delivered makes us all anticipate the best day of December (sorry Christmas),” says Senior Program Manager Amanda Glebs. “Elaine makes every cookie with care and dedication and I’ve never had one that wasn’t the BEST TREAT EVER.” 

Bulk Production Manager Katie Herbrand is grateful to the York family for making this day happen “especially this year when we could all use a cookie pick-me-up.”

“Elaine makes every cookie with care and dedication and I’ve never had one that wasn’t the BEST TREAT EVER.” 

Amanda Glebs, Senior Program manager

“While it looked a little different this year, the generosity and thoughtfulness shined through,” says Katie. “My favorite offering has to be the homemade caramels, so when I saw one in each of the portioned containers, it brought a huge smile to my face!”

For many employees, the Elaine Day tradition strikes a deep emotional chord, especially during these difficult times.

“Walking in and seeing those cookies always makes me feel like a kid on Christmas morning again, and you don’t really get that feeling as an adult,” says Associate Program Manager Amy Johnson. “It’s such a wonderful feeling the York’s are able to create for all of us, especially this year given all the challenges we’ve faced together.”

Sheets of hand decorated holiday cookies: adapting a holiday tradition.

Elaine and Chuck did not forget about the remaining 40% of Promega employees working from home. Wanting to make sure they are still included in the cookie tradition, Elaine is graciously sharing one of her most coveted recipes, for Butterdream cookies, and she and Chuck hope employees working remotely will enjoy making a batch to share with those in their households this holiday season. They are also inviting employees to post a photo on the Promega employee social networking site so Elaine and Chuck can see their creations.

“I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Elaine York’s yummy cookies for years at Promega,” says Events Planner Michelle Livingston, an avid baker herself who has been working from home since March. “They are delicious and beautiful! I am so excited that she is sharing her recipe with us so that I can bring her cookies to my home since I’m not in the office this holiday season.”

Homework: Adapting Holiday Traditions and Finding New Ones

You are likely facing similar challenges of discovering new ways to honor and adapt your own valued holiday traditions during these strange times. How do we bring the spirit of joy, peace and celebration into our workplaces and homes – which now very likely occupy the same spaces? How do we approach these conversations with our children? With elderly, at-risk family members? This is a complex yet important puzzle for all of us to untangle in the coming weeks. It is vital that we find safe ways to connect, to offer one another the care and support we all crave right now, to adapt.

While cookies may not be the solution, perhaps they can be a simple start? A small act of kindness for others can mean so much in the absence of more formal and familiar traditions. We invite you to bake a batch of Elaine’s Buterdream Cookies to share with family, send to friends, or leave at a neighbor’s front door. After all, we can all use a cookie pick-me-up right now.    


Elaine’s Butterdream Cookies

Ingredients

  • ½ cup margarine
  • ½ cup Crisco
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • 2 ¼ cup flour
  • Marachino cherries

Directions

  • Combine first five ingredients. Shape into balls.
  • Put little dent in middle Press ½ maraschino cherry (drained) in middle.
  • Bake 350° oven, 8–10 mins.

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Karen is a Communication Specialist who has the privilege of helping to tell the Promega story in a multitude of ways. A former reporter, producer and teacher, Karen holds a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University. She is the mom of teenage twins and one very spoiled (yet deserving) rescue dog.

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