It’s 1998 and the first snow of winter hasn’t fallen yet, but in our kitchen tonight we’re doing a pretty good imitation. The whole family is circled around the huge old oak table. The snip, snip, snip of scissors
is background music for giggles and good-natured ribbing, and exclamations of “Oh, wow! Look at that one!” Tiny scraps of white paper float down from the table, making our floor look like a giant brownie sprinkled with powdered sugar.
Tonight has turned out to be the night for our annual Snowflake Party. The tradition began when our children were just toddlers. There has never been a date blocked out in red on our calendar, but nevertheless, a year rarely goes by that we don’t celebrate the event.
It’s one of those things that just happens. One day we wake up and the brisk autumn air has turned bitter. Naked tree branches trace their stark cal- ligraphy on a dull grey sky. It’s that time of limbo between the crisp anticipa- tion of autumn’s new beginnings and winter’s joyful promises of Christmas and snow. The perfect time for a party.
On such a day, one of the kids will fly in the back door, fresh home from school, and say, “Hey, Mom! Tonight would be a good night for the Snowflake Party!”
First we have to round up every pair of scissors in the house. This is one time when sharing is not a virtue. While the kids search for scissors, I scav- enge every piece of plain white paper I can get my hands on. When I’ve collected at least five or six sheets for each member of the family, the pieces are cut into squares and folded catty-corner multiple times. The resulting triangles are artfully arranged in a basket, awaiting the beginning of the party.
Later, when supper dishes are drying on the counter, and all the crumbs and jelly spots have been wiped from the tabletop, I recruit a volunteer to help me stir up a big pot of hot cocoa. It will mull and warm on the back burner, tantalizing us with its aroma for the next hour.
Now the fun begins. Everyone claims a pair of scissors…no fighting allowed.
Then begins the careful cutting and snipping, shaping plain white paper into intricate works of art. Each snowflake we create seems as unique and spec- tacular as the genuine variety created by God himself.
As each masterpiece is unfolded, collective oohs and aahs go up. Now the iron is pressed into duty, smoothing the creases and folds from each delicate creation. A spritz of starch is the finishing touch.
When the last dregs of our creative juices are drained, Dad oversees the vacuum patrol while I pour warm cocoa into generous mugs. We spread our handiwork on the floor all around us and sit, quietly admiring our work while we dunk marshmallows and sip rich chocolate.
Later, with empty mugs piled up in the sink, it’s time for the judging to begin. There will be awards for cutest, prettiest, most unusual, most like the real thing, and as many other categories as we need for everyone to be a win- ner. Dad is the judge because he studied art in college. He also usually wins one of the top prizes – because he studied art in college.
Snowflakes deemed runners-up might be pasted in scrapbooks or hung on the refrigerator. A few even “melt” into the trash that very night. But the winners are taped proudly to the big picture windows in the living room for passersby to enjoy while they long for the day when genuine snowflakes will color the world clean and white.
Our oldest daughter went far away to college that September. She called just after Thanksgiving to tell me that her dorm window was covered with snowflakes. No, not the real thing, but the ones she remembers from her childhood – paper ones that she spent an entire evening cutting and snipping while sipping hot cocoa.
That’s the neat thing about traditions: They go with us no matter how far from home we might travel.