Several weeks ago, I wrote about how I discovered that I had lost all of my “special” ornaments – not the filler ones, the glass balls and glittery snowflakes. The special ones. The Norfolk mermaid. The Hershey’s bar. The whisk. The ones that say, hey, I represent Dana this year.
Mermaid from a gift shop in Norfolk, where mermaids are kind of a big deal. Bought during my first year living in Norfolk.
My friend (and former roommate) Andrea was rifling around, looking for Christmas lights to make a book tree with, and she stumbled upon a bag of ornaments she didn’t recognize. Oh yeah. My ornaments, mixed in with hers. She returned them to me at lunch one day, and that afternoon, I carefully put them on the tree, happy to have them back.
It’s amazing the meaning we attach to small things this time of year, the ways that those small things symbolize so much. Last night, Amanda and I watched Miracle on 34th Street, the version I grew up with, starring Mara Wilson and Elizabeth Perkins. Kris Kringle repeatedly describes himself as a symbol, one that has meaning and value, one that people believe in not for material gain or obligation, but because of what it represents: cheer, joy, peace, goodness.
When I was teaching literature this semester, my students would get hung up on symbols. How do we know, they would ask, when something is a symbol and not just an arbitrary detail? When does it cross over?
My answer was that it becomes a symbol when it matters enough to be considered one. I told them to look for repetition and weight – what does it mean to the story?
My new ornament this year: two birds.
When I look at my own life, I notice certain symbols. Birds, for instance, which I’ve written about before. The ornaments symbolize so much more than just decorations. They’re symbolic of my past, my family, my traditions. They’re special because of that.
I think recipes become that way too. They are the flavors we associate with this time of year: sweetness and savory and salty and buttery. We can take comfort in those flavors because they’re not just cookies: they’re us. They’re how we grew up and where we come from. They’re family and tradition and comfort. They’re the compilation of moments when we licked beaters and rolled cookie dough and waited for cookies to come out of the oven. They’re aprons that were too big for us when we were children, the ones that fit just right now. They’re the benches we stood on to see over the counter. They’re the last minute phone calls to mothers and fathers and grandmothers to double check details of a recipe. Continue reading