The Easiest (and Happiest) Christmas Morning Food Traditions, According to 11 Parents
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“Merry Christmas! Don’t start opening any presents until Dad and I get our coffee!”
I’m nice and not Grinchy — but still, that’s what I say to my sons on Christmas morning. Full disclosure: My husband and I don’t function without caffeine. After being up super late frantically wrapping (next year will be different!), we roll out of bed feeling like we’ve been run over by all nine of Santa’s reindeer. But once we get our hands around a big mug of cafe con leche, we’re present, ready to soak in the glow of Christmas tree lights, happy sounds, our bonkers dog shredding the paper, and Elvis Christmas tunes. The joy of just us. And feeling oh-so-grateful.
Then the fun food begins: We make a variation on scrambled eggs or pancakes, always with plenty of bacon (because the boys can’t live without it), and a big bowl of mixed berries (mostly for me). Then the topper: Shirley Temples with Sprite, Grenadine, and bright red Maraschino cherries. I started the tradition when they were little and that was their favorite special restaurant treat. A few years ago, I couldn’t find grenadine and — workaround! — just dumped the cherry juice into their Sprites. Have a Holly, Jolly, Red Dye #5 Christmas, kids!
Whatever you and your crew feast on Christmas morning, if you celebrate, you know that awe-mazing feeling, too, and you probably have rituals and recipes that mean everything. Sometimes, though, it’s fun to add to your menu and hear how other families blend and reinvent traditions. For inspiration, here’s a peek into the Christmas morning menus of 11 families. Cheers … and remember, coffee before gifts!
Our merged heritage french toast
“Every Christmas morning, we have an overnight french toast. I use challah (my heritage; I was raised Jewish) soaked in a mix of eggs, vanilla, brown sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, and eggnog (my husband’s heritage; he was raised Catholic). I bake it covered at 350° for about 30 minutes and then uncovered for about another 15-20. I top it with berries and vanilla Chantilly cream. I’m sad I only make it once a year!
A cute/funny thing about our french toast: I was raised Jewish but we always celebrated both Hanukkah and Christmas (albeit in a very secular manner). My husband was raised Catholic; he was even an altar boy! Before we got married, we started going to a Unitarian Universalist church, which is now our shared faith and the one in which we are raising our daughter. That’s all to say I jokingly call my recipe ‘UU French Toast.’ I think it fits nicely with our family.” —Leah Cardullo, teacher and mom of Alaina, 6 ¾, North Attleboro, MA
Try this recipe: Overnight Cinnamon Apple French Toast
Stollen and home
“Christmas morning for our little family means eating home-baked marzipan stollen and drinking hot chocolate while opening presents. It’s our very own tradition meant to incorporate my husband’s Dutch heritage. My 20-year-old daughter, who is at college, recently commented that it wouldn’t be Christmas without stollen and hot chocolate and home. I am certain that both my girls will be following this tradition with their own families.” —Irene Haakman, Sarasota, Florida
Try this recipe: Dutch Stollen
A welcoming Vietnamese spread
“Holidays have always been special for my family, even though as Vietnamese immigrants we were fairly new to American Christmases. Our family celebrations really took off in college, when I came home for the holidays, and we were all under one roof at my grandparents’ house. We sat around in pajamas and listened to Paris by Night while nibbling on hunks of baguette piled alongside cold cuts and pickled veggies. Sometimes there were candied nuts in bowls. Always, sliced fruit. It was casual and loving and intimate — all the marks of a successful holiday to me.
Now, my husband, daughter, and I wake early and run downstairs, where my husband and I will prep a breakfast charcuterie board while my daughter oohs and aahs around the gifts and her stocking. We put out pastries, croissants, jams, cold cuts, and cheese. We’ll slice apples and wash grapes. Then we nosh throughout the morning. There are never any food rules for us around Christmas morning, which is what makes it a holiday, in my opinion!” —Thao Thai, Managing Editor, Cubby
Mom’s NYT recipe for David Eyre’s pancake
“I always make David Eyre’s Pancake from a Craig Claiborne cookbook. My kids love it! My mother had the Craig Claiborne recipe that she cut out of The New York Times glued into her recipe book, and she would make it for special occasions. Our kids usually wake up before us (though not so much now that they are teenagers). When I get up, I’ll make the David Eyre’s pancake (which is like a dutch baby pancake) while we open presents.” —Susannah Brown Colomey, attorney and mom of two, Marshfield, MA
Try this recipe: Dutch Baby Pancake
A poppin’ fresh favorite
“We have Pillsbury cinnamon rolls. Yes, from the old pop tube! My mom used to make the cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning when I was a little kid, so I kept the tradition alive with my son, who is 5. The sound of the can popping open is always good for some delighted laughs. He loves helping with putting the icing on — and he’s really good about actually putting the icing on, and not just spooning it into his mouth!” —Cara Shultz, Rutherford, New Jersey
Try this recipe: Air Fryer Cinnamon Rolls
Dad’s holiday breakfast, updated
“My father always made biscuits and gravy — the one time a year he’d make them. For some reason, though, we always started [the morning] with a bowl of oatmeal, which filled us up and made the much-anticipated biscuits and gravy last a bit longer, I think. In older years, I asked to skip the oatmeal, to no avail with my mother! I make the biscuits and gravy now on Christmas for my husband and 10-year-old son, Colt — no oatmeal required.” —Michelle Claudnic, Livermore California
Try this recipe: Instant Pot Biscuits and Gravy
Instant atmosphere (and a grown-up toddy)
“We don’t have a fireplace and I always wished we did. When the kids were little, my husband started playing the Yule Log on the television all morning and I thought it was pretty goofy initially, but now I love it. We would never start with stockings before the fire is turned on! And we always have coffee with a little Bailey’s for the adults. I wish I could say I make a killer Breakfast Strata the night before, but I don’t have it that together.” —Jonna Gallo Wepler, City Island, NY
Try this recipe: Christmas Breakfast Strata
Meat + carbs = happiness
“I always make thick-cut applewood smoked bacon on Xmas morning. But the real food for our Christmas morning is made by my wife, who makes an absolutely amazing cranberry coffee cake.” —Javier C. Rivera, Los Angeles, CA
Try this recipe: Apple Cranberry Coffee Cake
A traditional sweet made with inherited kitchen tools
“We make the Danish treat Aebleskiver [puffy little donut holes] from scratch using the pans that I inherited from my mom. We honor our ancestors by using every piece of kitchen equipment and tableware that we’ve inherited for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Boxing Day. It’s a lovely way to recall the times of the past and spark holiday joy with our kids.” —Suzanne Frank, Mount Tremper, NY
Try this recipe: Aebleskiver
Popovers all around!
“I bake popovers every Christmas morning. I started making them before we had kids — my husband Dave loves popovers and I first made them for him. Now the kids love them too. And they were one of the things my son, Mack, who has food allergies, was able to eat. We have them straight out of the oven, with butter and/or strawberry jam.” —Richela Fabian Morgan, artist and mom of two, Brooklyn, NY
Try this recipe: Classic Popovers
Great-great Grandmother’s pain perdu
“My husband’s family always makes pain perdu with brioche, from a recipe from his French-Canadian great-great-grandmother. My mother-in-law usually makes it and my boys love it (even when kids and picky eaters, but bread/butter/cheese is their jam). I loved that it was on a card handed down in the family. (I did my dissertation on cooking and national identity in France, so I have a fondness for [French] recipes.) —Nancy Edwards, Washington, DC-area
Try this recipe: Pain Perdu