As Brian and I prepare to host Christmas, my mind has been transported to the past. To holidays spent in my childhood home. Where there are three trees laced with ornaments positioned around the house. One with the automated Hallmark variety that buzz and hum (Dad’s tree), one with the sentimental decoration handed down for generations (Mom’s tree), and one in my own room filled with trinkets that symbolize those things that are important to an adolescent girl; horses, soccer, kittens, music, turtles, Winnie the Pooh. We rarely turn on an overhead light, relying instead on the soft glow from the multi-colored bulbs wrapped carefully around each branch of the three trees.
The dark blue-green front door to our home acts as the backdrop for an elaborate wreath hung with artificial fruit. On the mantle are candles of all sizes and shapes interspersed with greenery and every one of my little girl stockings (I am an only child, and have several). There are little dishes of candy dressed in jewel-tone wrappers scattered around the house for sneaking when my parents aren’t looking and, outside, a light display that rivals Clark Griswold’s abode.
On Christmas Eve we host a party, providing a stop for friends and family visiting our neighborhood to view the houses strung with lights and the luminaries lining the streets. We dress up and fill the dining room table with an assortment of cheese and crackers, sliced fruit, miniature cheesecakes and fresh cookies baked and decorated by my momma and I earlier that day. Christmas carols spill from the stereo as the adults mingle inside and the children busy themselves outside. I run around the yard with my friends, playing hide and seek behind Santa’s workshop and even Santa himself, and think that no little girl can be as lucky as I, who gets to live in this holiday wonderland.
Over time these holiday traditions have shifted with the changed structure of my family. Decorations were divided and dispersed between two different houses, those two piles having been joined by the piles of new family members years ago. My childhood home is still owned by my daddy, and Brian and I still visit for at least a portion of most Christmas’, but there are only aspects of the place that are familiar this time of year. Little reminders of the past that pull at my heartstrings and remind me of the little girl running amongst wooden elves and twinkling trees.
Part of me is sad for her, the young Andrea who still believes in Santa and his magic sleigh. She who thinks that all future holidays will be just like this one, who doesn’t know that the wonderland she is experiencing is meant just for her, at that moment in time.
And yet, another part of me feels the joy of a challenge - a challenge that Brian and I are tasked with together. To invent our own traditions, to collect our own meaningful decorations, to create our own wonderland. For ourselves, and for our future children.
I think we're off to a good start.
Although this tradition is borrowed from my momma and stepfather, we've adopted it for our Christmas morning breakfast as well, sharing it two years ago with Brian's family. In fact, we've expanded the tradition to not only include Christmas morning, but also at least two weekends between Thanksgiving and the 25th of December.
Panettone is an Italian dessert bread containing candied orange, citron, lemon zest and raisins. It makes for an incredible French toast. You'll find it in boxes at most grocery stores from Thanksgiving through the New Year.
Panettone French Toast
- (1) 1-1/2 pound panetone loaf
- 4 eggs
- 3/4 cup whole milk
- 2 tbsp maple syrup
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 2 tbsp butter, divided
- Slice panetone loaf into (4) equal disks, horizontally (about 1-1/2 inches thick).
- Whisk together eggs, milk, maple syrup, vanilla and salt. Pour into shallow dish.
- Melt 1/2 tbsp butter in nonstick skillet over medium heat. Test to see if the butter is hot enough by dropping a bit of egg mixture onto the skillet. When it sizzles, the pan is ready.
- Lay a slice of panetone in the egg mixture. Pick up the slice, turn it over, and lay it back in the egg mixture. Remove the slice immediately and place in the skillet.
- Fry the panetone for about 3 minutes on one side, until nicely browned. Flip the slice and brown the other side, another 2-3 minutes. Remove from skillet and set aside while you fry the other pieces. (I place an oven-safe dish in the oven and turn it to 170*. The slices keep warm in the oven while I fry the others.)
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