This probably isn't a very cool thing to say, but I love tradition.
I'm not talking about church weddings or fish-on-Fridays here, although I've had some great times with both of those (you can tell I live in a Catholic country when the only outdated traditions that spring to mind are religious). It's the ritualised, people-centric part of traditions that do it for me. Meeting up with old college friends and falling straight back into rows about how to pronounce garlic bread (emphasis on the "garlic" or the "bread"? It's kept us bickering for nearly 20 years now). Gatherings of my extended family where the first question from the clan is always "crash the car on the way here, Sarah?" thanks to the time I arrived at a christening having wrapped the A3 round a telegraph pole at a glorious 1mph. You get the idea. Especially since living overseas for a chunk of time again, anything that pulls me towards the people I care about is worth having.
So, the tin. The tin is a gift from a dear, dear friend. Karen has done so many things that make me think "When I grow up, I want to be like her". She moved alone to Paris (from Arizona; not from, y'know, Fontainebleau or somewhere) in her late thirties because she'd always wanted to do it so thought she'd better get on with it. She published her first book last year. The first time I went to her home, she fed me with home-made madeleines, because she'd been reading Proust and felt inspired. Karen just lives her life properly somehow - and she's brilliant, brilliant company for someone scrappy like me.
The first year we were in Seattle, Karen was telling me about a "holiday season" cookie exchange she'd been to - one of those "we should all do this all year round" American ideas which essentially ends in a shedload of cookies for all concerned. It sounded great, but I was entirely unlikely to manage one cookie, let alone a batch for sharing. Cooking, I'm sorted. Baking...yeah, not so much. It requires precision and patience, and typically I try to possess neither.
So Karen, expecting nothing (and receiving nothing too, it must be confessed), brought me round a tin of these incredible 1,000-calorie cookies for Christmas. It was our first Christmas in Seattle, and those cookies were a tiny sign that perhaps, just perhaps, we were starting to be rooted there. It was a new ritual, but one that involved little round biscuits and one of the most interesting people I knew. What's not to like?
Each year, usually about April when I remembered, I'd return the tin to Karen, and each year around Thanksgiving, sometimes more like Christmas, she'd re-gift it to me, full again of the same amazing cookies. It made us laugh, and it made me feel connected in a land where lots of the other rituals were still quite odd. And then we moved to Dublin, and I thought, oh, well, that was nice whilst it lasted. But no! We've been here for three Christmases now ) and the tin has found its way to us each year - sometimes hand-delivered, sometimes in the mail.
It makes me cry a bit now, that tin, when I see it, because it's a really tangible symbol of a friendship that's almost all virtual at the moment. I can think of Karen baking the cookies in her gorgeous house with the view of "our" lake, and I know the trip the cookies have taken. And each time I open the tin for a cookie, I think of Karen and grin. It's a great excuse for sampling often - this year, they didn't even make it home before I had to eat the first one.