Suzanne Tobias

Family holiday tradition? Just roll with it

At Denise Neil’s house, Christmas morning means monkey bread – sweet, sticky and crafted using a recipe she copied from her mom many years ago. (Denise notes, by the way, that she uses only butter, not margarine. Even beloved traditions can stand a little tweak.)
At Denise Neil’s house, Christmas morning means monkey bread – sweet, sticky and crafted using a recipe she copied from her mom many years ago. (Denise notes, by the way, that she uses only butter, not margarine. Even beloved traditions can stand a little tweak.) The Wichita Eagle

All you readers with babies and toddlers, be warned.

Whatever you do on Christmas morning these next few years – what you eat, the order in which you open gifts, when you empty stockings, what you listen to or watch on TV – will become your family’s holiday tradition henceforth, forevermore, to infinity and beyond.

So think it through. That’s all I’m saying.

One example: Our family eats Pillsbury cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning. Every Christmas morning.

I didn’t imagine when I popped open that can of store-bought rolls and tossed them into the oven one Dec. 25 more than a dozen years ago that they would become the irreplaceable taste of Christmas for my daughter, Hannah, but that’s what happened.

I first made the rolls on Christmas when she was 3 or 4 – I don’t remember the year exactly – and every Christmas after that, Hannah would declare, “We have Pillsbury cinnamon rolls on Christmas,” the same way someone might say, “The sun rises in the east” or “We inhale air to fill our lungs with oxygen.”

That’s just the way it is. Christmas morning? Cinnamon rolls. Pillsbury.

Don’t try to pass off those store-brand rolls on us, and don’t get fancy and attempt your friend Sandy’s recipe for homemade ones. Breakfast casserole with sausage and eggs? Think again. Or go ahead, but just make sure there are Pillsbury cinnamon rolls on the side. The breakfast order may as well be carved in stone and hung on the mantle next to the stockings.

Most families are the same way, I’m told, wedded to their holiday customs. Some are handed down deliberately and thoughtfully, new parents re-creating the same recipes or routines they loved as children. Others evolve or appear by accident.

I should be thankful, I suppose, that I didn’t stay up all night making some complicated meal that fateful, impressionable Christmas morning. One lazy holiday bought me years of stress-free but still beloved holiday breakfasts.

My friend Denise makes monkey bread every Christmas morning, following a hastily written, butter-and-sugar-stained recipe that calls for a 3-ounce package of “but pudding, NOT INSTANT.” (That’s butterscotch pudding, in case you were wondering.)

My friend Rick says his family eats scrapple, a German-Dutch-Ozark-inspired dish that features pork sausage in cornmeal mush that is molded, chilled, sliced and then fried in a skillet. I had never heard of scrapple, so Rick helped me find a recipe similar to his wife’s – thankfully not the one that begins “one pork heart, sinews removed” – and now I’d like to try it for myself. Maybe the day after Christmas.

Along with requisite menu items, Christmas demands adherence to other rules. In our family, we sift through stockings first, while the cinnamon rolls bake. I didn’t plan it that way. It just happened because, when the kids were little, I couldn’t keep them away from those treat-filled socks with the stuffed animals or candy canes peeking out the top.

Other families do presents first, then breakfast, then stockings. Some open one present Christmas Eve and the rest Christmas morning. Some take turns opening gifts; others rip through them together in a chaotic frenzy.

I love to read about other families’ random customs. One blogger says her dad put scratch-off lottery tickets in their stockings every year. After he died, she and her family continued the tradition.

In our house, we listen to the Carpenters’ “Christmas Portrait” album. We get new pajamas on Christmas Eve and act surprised when we open the boxes. We buy cream cheese in bulk for appetizers and desserts. We watch “A Christmas Story” and recite our favorite lines. We get a 1,000-piece puzzle and assemble it before New Year’s Eve.

And Christmas morning, we eat cinnamon rolls. Because we must.

Reach Suzanne Perez Tobias at 316-268-6567 or stobias@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @suzannetobias.

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