Set shortening and brown sugar in the bowl of your stand mixer and mix until well combined. Beat in the molasses and water. Place the 4 cups flour, baking soda and spices in another bowl, and then gradually mix into the molasses mixture.
Turn dough on to a lightly floured work surface and divide and form into 2 equals balls. Tear 2 large sheets of plastic wrap and set flat. Set a ball of dough in the centre of each piece of plastic wrap. Press down on each piece of dough to create a 1/2-inch thick disk. Tightly wrap and refrigerate each disk for at least 60 minutes (see Note).
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Set one of the pieces of dough on a floured work surface. With a floured rolling pin, roll dough to ¼-inch thickness. As you roll, check under the dough to ensure it’s not sticking.
Use lightly floured, holiday-themed cookie cutters to cut out different shapes. Set cookies on parchment paper-lined cookie sheets, leaving a 3-inch space between each cookie.
You could decorate the cookies now, before baking, with the items listed below, except the royal icing. You could also decorate the cookies after baking with royal icing and other decorations. The cookies could also simply be left undecorated, if desired.
Bake cookies, one sheet at a time, 12 to 13 minutes, and then cool on a baking rack.
Roll, bake and decorate the other cookie dough as you did the first.
When cooled, store cookies, not stacked, in tight-sealing containers at cool room temperature until needed. They will keep a few weeks.
Note: This dough, unbaked and tightly wrapped, will keep in the refrigerator several days. It also freezes well; thaw in refrigerator overnight before using.
Options: Try decorating your cookies with dragée (small silver-coloured balls), Christmas candies, coarse sugar, candy sprinkles or royal icing. To make royal icing to decorate the cookies, place a large egg white in a medium bowl. Slowly mix 1 1/2 cups of sifted icing sugar. Pipe or spread the icing on the cookies. Keep the icing tightly covered when not in use. Allow icing to dry before wrapping cookies as gifts, placing on serving plates, or storing away until needed.