This Christmas will contain a lot of "firsts" for me — first Christmas as a married person, first Christmas of my 30s, and the first Christmas not spent with my parents and immediate family.
Newlyweds as of this fall, my now-husband and I agreed that we'd visit my family this Thanksgiving, and Christmas would be spent with his family. It was (and is) a fair compromise, but that hasn't stopped me from randomly bursting into tears twice so far at the mere thought of being away from my parents and sister on Christmas morning for the first time in my entire life.
One of my family's traditions has always been having Sara Lee's pecan coffee cake on Christmas morning. We've done it as far back as I can remember. I don't know who started it, but I do know that every year I've looked forward to my slice of that icing-topped pastry, now found behind the frosty doors in the frozen breakfast aisle of fewer and fewer grocery stores.
While I may be entering the fold of a new set of family traditions, I decided there was one I still wanted to hold onto: Christmas morning coffee cake. At some point, it became a fact that it's just not Christmas without it.
As a child growing up in the late '80s and early '90s, my sister and I were raised primarily on breakfasts of Pop-Tarts (unfrosted, toasted, and topped with a pat of butter), bowls of plain Cheerios with 2-percent milk, frozen concentrate OJ, and iced cinnamon rolls from a can, which were and still are delicious.
I don't have any memories of my mom in our kitchen with hands dusted in flour making bread from scratch, or slaving away for hours to serve us a multi-course weeknight dinner. And there's nothing wrong with that, of course. My mom was never big into cooking, plus she had a job and volunteered and was tasked with raising two highly picky children who would sooner starve than swallow a canned pea. Thus, a thawed, oven-warmed Sara Lee coffee cake fit perfectly into my family's ready-made narrative of a "special treat."
In preparation for spending Christmas with my in-laws, I started searching for my beloved coffee cake shortly after Thanksgiving. Every time my husband and I would venture out for our weekend grocery shopping trip, I'd scan the frozen-food aisles in search of that red Sara Lee box. Our usual grocery spot turned up a dead end. Same for the Target near our house.
Fearing the brand had discontinued this particular baked good, I found their website and entered my zip code into their "find a store near you" product locator. I was relieved when another, slightly fancier grocery store in our city popped up multiple times.
The next day after work, I entered the nearest location into my GPS and, once inside, marched through the aisles with hopeful purpose. And there they were: two stacks piled four-high each with coffee cake. My coffee cake. I eagerly snagged one, debated getting two, then told myself to calm down and headed for the checkout lane. Mission accomplished.
I have a new family to consider now along with my own. While I'm sure it'll be an adjustment, I feel lucky to have exciting new traditions to take part in. I'm also excited to be bringing in a tradition of my own.