As the tin turns

The tin has officially turned. About 20 years back I bought a limited edition Nestle Toll House tin that held a package of chocolate chips. It’s square and has a picture of the changing seasons on its four sides. I have a row of collector tins on a ledge in our kitchen and somewhere along the way I started turning this particular tin to match the season outside. My life is exciting like that.

The tin has officially turned.

About 20 years back I bought a limited edition Nestle Toll House tin that held a package of chocolate chips. It’s square and has a picture of the changing seasons on its four sides. I have a row of collector tins on a ledge in our kitchen and somewhere along the way I started turning this particular tin to match the season outside. My life is exciting like that.

I went to a workshop once where the speaker talked about the importance of creating family traditions. He said they didn’t have to be big to be important . . . they just had to be consistent. It could be Sunday morning waffles or Friday night movies or Saturday afternoon nature walks. They might not seem like a big deal but over the years they give the family the roots they need to grow on.

Holidays are rife with traditions. Christmas, Easter, even Valentine’s Day is usually marked by a family’s own quirky touch. Whenever I think about holiday traditions I remember a joke I read where a person complained, “My family doesn’t have any holiday traditions. We just do the same thing every year!”

We’ve had a few unconventional ones over the years. Early on as new parents we couldn’t find a sitter for Valentine’s Day so I spread out the lace tablecloth, arranged the only four china plates we owned (wedding gifts), lit candles and had an assortment of hors d’oeuvres with the kids. They loved it and so did we. After that Valentine’s Day became a family event. Even now that the boys are men and our nest is empty, Darcy and I still celebrate Valentine’s Day at home. It has crossed my mind that I should feel resentful about cooking instead of being taken out, but if we went out it wouldn’t be the same. Take away the china plates — we still have just the four — and the tattered lace tablecloth and I’d be miserable. You just don’t mess with tradition!

Then there was the one where Darcy hid gifts in the Christmas tree. Since I was the one with more time and interest the bulk of the gift buying fell to me, but every year Darcy would buy the boys something just from him. And then he would hide it in the tree. Placing gifts on the branches of trees is an ancient practice that I suppose was lost when our consumerist greed resulted in gifts too big and numerous for the branches to hold. So setting a gift on a bough is very traditional. But hiding it? Not so much.

“It’s Christmas, not Easter,” one of the kids would always try to point out.

But in that downward pause after all the gifts had been opened and another Christmas morning was coming to a close, I think it was kind of fun to have a father who said, “Is that all the gifts? Are you sure? Maybe you should look in the tree.”

Turning the tin happened four times a year and was pretty short on ceremony. When all the leaves had turned to yellow I would announce, “Turning the tin to fall!” And when the first snowfall covered the landscape, the tin would turn to the winter scene with its slice of Nestle Toll House pie in the foreground (who knew the cookies even came in a pie version? Not me.). The turning of the tin to summer was postponed until the last day of school and because of that it got a bit more attention from the kids, but it was the spring turning that held the most excitement.

For the tin to turn to spring the criteria was threefold; the water needed to be running in the ditches, pussy willows had to be in full, fat, fuzzy bud and someone had to have spotted a robin on the lawn. What a satisfying thrill to spin the tin to the scene of a window through which a family of ducks could be seen swimming in a lake, while to the left a jug of spring flowers brightened up the counter and a platter of Toll House pan cookies and three rogue chocolate chips sat waiting to be devoured.

After the boys moved out I spotted a couple of the same tins at a garage sale and gave them each one of their own. I liked the idea of us all turning tins with the seasons, though I’m pretty sure that’s not happening.

They’re guys, after all. The tins are probably on a back shelf filled with nails and bolts, if they even still have them at all. But maybe one day they’ll come across the tin and have some warm memories. Though it’s far more likely they’ll look at the tin and wish their mother made a lesser deal of the seasons and a bigger deal of making the toll house treats pictured on its sides.

Shannon McKinnon is a humour columnist from Northern BC. You can catch up on past columns or check out her garden blog by visiting www.shannonmckinnon.com

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