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…At least to some, it is. The traditional Italian Christmas fruited bread is moist, buttery, light, and next to sublime when toasted and slathered in butter. But not to all. And not to one in particular-my brother Larry.
We are a big Italian family with Italian traditions at holiday time. Our traditional dinner for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter was always homemade ravioli, braciola, sausage, and meatballs. Turkey and ham were served later in the evening, at the second supper which was just for sandwiches and pickings. Homemade wine and Italian pastries were served alongside the generous number of pies and cakes.
Despite the distinct Italian flavor to our celebrations, I don’t ever remember encountering a panettone at our holiday celebrations when I was young or seeing one at all until at least my late teens. But some time in the early ’80s, when gourmet Italian food was going mainstream, panettone seemed to pop up everywhere, not just in the Italian specialty stores. Also at this time, they started to appear reliably at our house at Christmas, as someone invariably gave one, or two or four, as gifts to my family. My father loved them but my brothers and I did not. Perhaps the first ones we had were poor quality or stale. I eventually came around when I discovered that they are quite delicious, and that toasting them took them to an entirely different level. But my brother Larry would not be moved. The very sight of that iconic rhomboid box annoyed the heck out of him and he would go into a rant about how they were worse than fruitcake.
So naturally, one year when we were trying to figure out what to get Larry for Christmas, we decided we should get him his very own panettone. He looked at the shape of the wrapped box and said “Oh no. It better not be a panettone!” His reaction was exactly what we were looking for, so the next year, we decided to put his gift inside of a panettone box so he would think he was getting another panettone. Then the year after that, we used a vice to flatten the panettone and put it in a box about two inches high so he wouldn’t think he was getting a panettone. But he was! The year after that, we put a cherry bomb in a panettone with the fuse sticking out and labeled the box “Acme Panettone Company”. Unfortunately, the anticipated explosion fizzled-too much moisture in the panettone.
And thus a new holiday tradition was born. It is now 2020 and for the last 35 years, we have managed an uninterrupted string of panettone-themed Christmas gifts. He has gotten panettone themed clothing (a handcrafted tie and a beautiful panettone fez), artwork (an authentic Andy Warhol panettone treatment), crafts ( an elegant ceramic panettone platter that I personally painted myself at the do-it-yourself pottery place), a wall clock, mini-panettone Christmas ornaments, a lamp, a heartfelt poem “Ode to a Panettone”, a jack in the box made out of a panettone box, etc. I’ve shellacked many a panettone in my basement over the years.
My brother is a person of many dislikes, so sometimes we got in a double whammy by combining panettone with some other item that particularly irked him. For example, he dislikes inflatable Christmas lawn ornaments, so naturally one year we created a giant inflatable panettone. To our disappointment, he never allowed it to festoon his lawn, although he did take a picture of it though which he has hanging in his living room. In fact, he has so many pictures of our panettone creations around his house that his mother-in-law figured he loved them and started giving him one at Christmas until she was let in on the joke. We were absolutely delighted-the gift that keeps on giving.
Sometimes the gags were simple and thought up at the last moment, and some were quite elaborate. Some of my favorites:
-The Panettone Log: We filmed a panettone burning on the fire and made a DVD of it with Christmas carols playing
– “Pass the Panettone”: a fun-filled board game where you accumulated various gifts over the Christmas season worth points. The more undesirable the gift, the higher the points (fruitcakes and panettone were worth the most), and whoever had the least points at the end won. It’s been played a couple of times and it is actually not bad.
-“The Panettone”: a horror film classic based on the Night Gallery episode “The Doll”, wherein an evil panettone is sent to my brother and it destroys all the other Christmas pastries and finally him as well.
-And…, the 2016 “Trumpattone”: We set out to “Make panettone great again”. Unfortunately, I seem to have spent more time making the gifts than photographing the results, but one of the panels that I designed for the Trumpattone is pictured here.
Alas, this year like many people I found myself in a Christmas funk come December and did not spare a passing thought to panettone until it was almost too late. But then, inspiration struck and I came up with the perfect panettone gift for 2020. The exclusive, limited edition Panettone face mask. Order yours today!
Buon Natale a tutti!Published in