This weekend, my mother and I (along with some gal pals) spent 12 hours (yes you read correctly), 12 HOURS baking bread. Ahhh…but not just any bread. This was 12 loaves of my father’s traditional Christmas bread.
Like most families, when I was growing up my mother would prepare a gaggle of baked goods in advance of the Christmas season. Our deep freeze would be jam-packed with butter tarts, scotch cookies, date squares, fruit loaf, red cherry loaf, and pies of all sorts to name but a few. My brother and I would sneak down and peek into the freezer filled to the brim with stacks and stacks of colorful Tupperware; knowing the red, blue, purple, yellow, boxes were filled an array of sugary delights! It was almost painful waiting for the yuletide season where we could indulge to our heart’s content.
But one tradition that stood out from the rest because of its uniqueness was that of my father baking his Christmas bread. The bread itself wasn’t that unusual – a white fruit bread. But my dad was a “man’s man” who rarely worked in the kitchen and to see him baking was such a foreign concept that it made it uniquely special. And every year my brother and I would wait with great anticipation for the bread baking day because that was the day we got to punch the loaf and hence, help Dad bake his bread. It was a team affair with Dad leading the way. And that evening, with the house smelling of freshly baked bread, we’d gather around as a family and enjoy a cup of tea with a slice of Dad’s bread, toasted, with loads of freshly melted butter. YUM!
It was one of the traditions I missed most after my Dad died in 1991.
Three years ago, my mother asked me if I wanted to resurrect the tradition. It took some thought because in a sense, I guard those memories as sacred and special and was scared doing it differently would alter or perhaps lessen the memories? But with the smell and taste of the special toast practically dancing on my tongue, I couldn’t help but be lured.
It was different. It was fun. And it was emotional. When I bit into that first piece of delicious toast, I did so with tears streaming down my cheeks. The tradition, the taste, and the smell brought back a RUSH of memories and feelings. After nearly 20 years gone, I mourned my Dad as if he had just died yesterday and I yearned with a depth and force so powerful to see him, to hear his voice, and to feel his touch once again that it took my breath away.
It was tough to resurrect the tradition but it was also so good. In the end, it didn’t “alter” the memories I had but only complemented them and helped me feel closer and more connected to my Dad than I had in years. And now when we get together and bake his bread, there are no more tears and no more heavy emotions – there is a celebration of a beautiful man and a beautiful life.
What Christmas traditions do you enjoy?