The red tin is one version of home for me. The familiar words of Collin Street Bakery with its glossy picture of snow and horses always takes me to a place of comfort and simplicity. Every Christmas my father ordered this particular red tin which contained a colorful fruitcake. I still wonder why my father who grew up with spicy curry and rice developed an affinity for such a strongly disliked holiday staple. Every year, it showed up on our doorstep and that’s how I knew that holiday season arrived at the Bhatt household.

How did we celebrate Christmas time? In the morning my father woke early. He was our resident Starbucks barista, making the chai and coffee with deliberation and ensuring that there was just enough mixing so that a thin foam would appear before you could see the light-brown smooth spiced tea. The smells of Red Label Tea, cardamom, and sandalwood incense filled the air. On the Sony boombox, my mom tuned it to the Indian radio station and when a song switched to a 1950 classic, my parents smiled while dancing around our scratched cherry wood table. My sister and I sat next to each other and I’d grab my slice of fruitcake and pick out the sugar glazed pecans off of the top. We just sat around the table, our Christmas tree a few feet away from us and our version of caroling via Hindi music blaring through the space.

After all these years, the memory is filled with a clarity I can touch. I realize now it wasn’t about the red tin or chai or the being Hindu or having a Christmas tree. It was about what you couldn’t quantify. The laughter, love, and simplicity of being together with family. The familiarity of tradition and the comfort it brings. I didn’t realize until much much later the magnitude of that fruitcake and what it did for our family. In times of darkness, I move forward by thinking about that memory and how safe I felt in that tiny kitchen with the people who loved me the most.

Did my father know he was creating this place for me? I suspect that he didn’t realize all the lessons that he taught me with that red tin. That despite the pendulum swinging between light and dark, hope and despair, birth and loss, comfort and distress that those holiday mornings are permanently in my core. And it is place where I can move forward by looking back.

Much love to all of you during this holiday season. May you all experience your special kind of fruitcake. xoxo Rudri