by Bobbi Hahn
It seemed like the perfect gift for my father.
You know how hard it is for adult children to select gifts for their parents. After all, what do they want and/or need, really? Flannel shirts and ties had been given in abundance over the years, and since he'd retired, shopping became even more difficult.
He was passionate about photography, but I wouldn't have had the slightest idea of what sort of equipment he might like.
He was a marvelous gardener, but the tiny garden at their row house in (before they were known as town homes) had no need of plants or seeds in December!
I had discovered a wonderful cookbook called Visions of Sugarplums, by Mimi Sheraton, and decided to make something for him from it because it contained recipes from all the countries that celebrate Christmas. He was of Czech descent, and the recipe for a sweet, braided bread containing almonds sounded perfect because he loved anything I made, and he also had a sweet tooth.
We purchased all of the ingredients, and my husband numbered the braids in the illustration so we'd be able to keep them straight. It smelled divine as it baked, and I was thrilled with its crusty golden color when I removed it from the oven.
We were living in by that time, so I packed it carefully with their other Christmas gifts and sent it off to Philadelphia.
I was not prepared for its reception. My father called with lavish praise for the bread, saying he couldn't believe his eyes when he opened the aluminum foil. With great emotion, he told me that when he and his brothers were very young boys, it was traditional for the bread -- called vanocka -- to be prepared every Christmas Eve.
I had given him back a beloved childhood memory, all without thinking! Legend said that every living being in the house had to partake of the bread before midnight of Christmas Eve, for luck. So all the dogs and cats, the occasional mouse, and whatever other creatures lived under their roof had to have a morsel.
That year, my husband and I began a tradition for our sons by preparing a vanocka for our home, as well. Cats and dogs were treated to a bite, much to the delight of our young sons.
I made the bread each Christmas until my father died. That year, I just couldn't bring myself to make it because it brought back memories of how happy I'd made him with such a simple gift, and it broke my heart that he would no longer enjoy it. I haven't made it in the several years since.
But this year, I'm going to have flour dust all over my kitchen again, and the scent of baking bread and roasted almonds will fill the air.
Our youngest son and his wife will be sharing Christmas with us, and it's time to remember the joy a humble loaf of bread unwittingly brought to my daddy.
-- Bobbi Hahn
Bobbi is a freelance writer, poet and calligrapher who lives with her husband and two cats beside a lagoon on a barrier island off the coast of . She says, "The book is still available, so if you're looking for some marvelous, traditional Christmas recipes, find a copy! It's amazing how similar some of the recipes are from one country to another, differing only by a few ingredients. One country might use almonds, another walnuts. I love these traditions!"
You can find a copy of the Visions of Sugarplums book Bobbi refers to here: