Christmas cookies are a big deal in my family. We set aside an entire weekend for baking and decorating, and REALLY get into it. We find food colors and decorations all year to add to the supplies, and I’ve been championing new cutters. This year I might even try to make edible glitter beforehand – because obviously what cookies need are ALL the sparkles!
My earliest Christmas memories are gathering whoever we could the weekend before Christmas and decorating up a storm. My childhood best friends, swim team buddies, Girl Scouts, dance friends, school friends, and any family members were all welcome, but normally it’d be me, some family members, and my besties. And every time, every year, someone would have to explain why we had so many Santas we were painting yellow.
When my parents were dating it was mostly long distance. My mom’s family was in Nashville, he was on Oahu, and my mom would fly back and forth. The first year he came to the mainland for Christmas to my mom’s was a big deal – it was his first mainland Christmas in a good decade or so, and his first mainland Christmas not in the northeast. Naturally, my mom’s VERY southern family put him through the ringer, and one of the planned activities was cookie decorating.
Now, my dad’s a detailed man. He’s not really artistic at all, but he’s very detailed and liked making sure what he was decorating looked like the object it was supposed to be. He’d done candy canes, trees, stockings, nothing huge. And then, he held a Santa. It was from a vintage cutter, that looked like this:
That’s a Santa. It’s not heavily detailed at all, but c’mon – what else is it gonna be? Dude’s standing up, bag on his bag, and in profile. It’s Santa. The cutter also has some light etching to show details that don’t appear on the cookie itself – so if you had cut them out, you’d know quite well what it was. However, my dad had zero context at all for this shape. So what does he do? Not see Santa in the slightest, and being the shipman he is, see…a submarine. And what is a man born in ’54 going to color his submarines, if not yellow? He even did little black circles for the portholes. After two or three of these, my mom’s family all stopped and stared. Finally, my mom asked “uh, Chris? What the hell are you doing?”
“Painting the submarines yellow. Where’d you get a submarine cookie cutter, anyway?” He painted along, humming to himself.
“Chris…those are Santas.” My mom stood one up and pointed to the features. My dad blinked, and it finally clicked.
“Ohhh. Well, I mean…” and he flipped it to the side, and SURE ENOUGH. They looked like damn submarines. Here my grandmother would spend half an hour or more, painting a detailed work of art on this cookie with no imprint to guide her…and he’d turned it into a minute or less with neon yellow and black. Everyone previously hated getting the Santas because it took too damn much work! Suddenly, it was hacked!
The relationship between me and my father (and my mother’s family and my father, for that matter) is virtually nonexistent now. And to be honest, there were a lot of parts of my childhood that his actions tainted. There are songs I can’t stand to listen to, foods I refuse to eat, even smells that just make me angry. This, however, is one of the few good memories I have – always setting one of the Santas aside to be “properly done,” and the rest becoming yellow submarines. I’ve spread this to my friends and family, and every time they crack up laughing. We’ve had some cookie theme overhaul additions over the years – a plain star becoming a Mario star, circles becoming PokéBalls, a gingerbread man becoming a skeleton. But there’s something about the yellow submarine that started it all that will always have a special place in my heart. And my stomach.