Snowed in. Although we get a lot of snow in Minnesota, rarely are we are told by the powers that be (i.e. MnDOT) not to go out. An industrious, hearty lot, Minnesotans (and one Californian I know very well) often react incredulously to this news. “It’s not that bad. I’m just going to run to the store,” said the aforementioned Californian at 11am this morning. Curled under a blanket and not about to go anywhere, I replied “godspeed” as he donned his boots and bounded out the door. A man who frequently makes the 4- hour trip to Duluth in the worst weather conditions to surf in the ice cold waters of Lake Superior, my husband is not easily dissuaded (read: I’ve learned to pick my battles).
He returned 1/2 hour later, boasting about the “badass”ness of his snow tires and carrying bags full of ingredients for what he’s always called “Russian nut cookies.” As he prepared the batter for the bready exterior and the sweet nut filling, the house began to pulse with energy emanating from the kitchen.
When I sat down to help him shape what would be over 80 cookies, he told me about how his mom got the recipe he was using today. When Michael was a child, his “Baba” used to make these cookies each holiday season– without a written recipe. When she started to lose her faculties later in life, his mom and her sisters decided it was important to create a written recipe so the tradition could continue. They mixed the batter, stuck Baba’s hand in it and, depending on the consistency, she said say “more milk, more flour,” etc. In this way, they recorded the ingredients and amounts based on her sensory memory.
Michael’s eyes lit up as he told me the story. We laughed as we rolled out the tiny circles and stuffed them with nut filling. I teased him about his overstuffed, pudgy cookies (he called them his “porcine beauties”) and he chided me for my daintier renditions. In the middle of trying to settle a bet over who’s cookies had baked up better (basically not exploded filling all over the cookie sheet), Michael said “making these with you was really great today. Your family has a lot of traditions that I love. It’s important for me that this becomes a tradition for you, me, and the baby.”
“Agreed,” I smiled. When I think over the traditions I grew up with as a child, most of them were created by my parents (sometimes on the spot). And some of the most unlikely would-be one time events have become traditions (like making my Mom “read” the picture book Father Christmas). Traditions become what they are because we infuse them with importance. What makes them meaningful is the memories they evoke, the feeling of community they create. This is what it’s all about. These are the things I remember when I am far from home. These are the things that keep families strong as members come and go, as the shape changes. These are the things that provide a point of connection from one person we love and value to another. Enjoy your traditions this holiday season… and tell me about them if you are so inclined.