Santa’s Breakfast: it’s an annual event in my family, always referred to with a raised eyebrow and a half smile. Maybe we find it amusing because my tall, slender father bears no resemblance whatsoever to St. Nick. Maybe it’s because Santa’s Breakfast is the one meal per year that he prepares for the family. Or maybe it’s because my mother, immersed in holiday preparations herself, is always a little annoyed at having her kitchen colonized on Christmas morning.
Dad moved to Houston almost half a century ago from Philadelphia, where he was raised by a Catholic mother and a Jewish father. My grandfather, whom I never got to meet, bequeathed to his son a love for bagels and lox. So Santa’s Breakfast is actually a Jewish feast: a big platter of smoked salmon, sliced tomatoes and onions, capers, cream cheese and an array of toasted bagels.
Tradition dictates Dad’s beloved fresh-squeezed orange juice for the occasion, the better to cover every surface of the kitchen counter in sticky puddles and piles of peel as Mom stands by in her robe, warning everyone not to overeat with turkey time only a few hours away. After lox, we move to the tree, where Santa, wearing his hat, passes out the gifts to his kids (these days, kids-in-law and grandkids, too). It’s then that, inevitably, I unwrap at least one bewildering gift from one of my brothers: a glass mannequin head, say, or a dripping-wet stone fountain, or a T-shirt emblazoned with Marilyn Manson sitting on the toilet (no idea).
Not that I’m complaining, of course. To me, Dad’s Santa hat, Mom’s grudging indulgence, everything bagels, handcrafted OJ and the off-register gifts are as much a part of Christmas as Mom’s pies, football and the TNT Christmas Story marathon. And now that I think about it, there’s something so Houston about this mishmash of rituals, annual rites that, taken together, somehow work—assuming no one gets into a screaming match. They’re just a few of the reasons I love this time of year.
This month’s cover feature (see p. 46) offers its own take on the shared Houston-in-wintertime experience, and it’s packed with many more things to do this season, plus every last tip and recommendation you need to enjoy it to the fullest. To that end, here’s a pair of bonus gifts from me to you, bits of advice to help bring joy to your world: if you brave the Galleria this year, take Uber, and if you decide to give someone your fountain, dry it off first.
Happy holidays, Houston.