We all knew the Christmas of 2000 was going to be a difficult one. The previous February, I had gotten to work and received a phone call from my mother saying that she could not wake my father up. I drove home to find out he had passed away in his sleep, which was completely out of the blue and unexpected. The day before, I had spoken to him on the phone and he had raved about his morning in the garden. He had spent four hours in the place where he was happiest, and he was excited to tell me all the things he had done. He had urged me to come over on the weekend to see the new additions. We agreed, we said goodbye, and that was the last conversation I had with him.

So we approached the following Christmas with trepidation. It was absolutely the elephant in the room. How would we “do” Christmas, and be joyful and merry? Our family is a family that does routine well. We had the same Christmas tree for years, the same decorations, and pretty much followed the same schedule each Christmas Day — even the same menu. We would open presents with no great fuss, and then have a big lunch followed by visiting extended family in the afternoon and evening.

A week before Christmas, my brother Michael said that he was going to make Christmas breakfast for us.

“What do you mean Christmas breakfast? We never make much of a fuss!” I told him.

“I know we haven’t in the past, but I have an idea, so I am going to try it this year,” Michael answered.

We were all happy to run with it. So on Christmas Day, Michael toasted a panettone, covered it in blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries, and then covered it in cream. We all pretty much licked the plate clean. And there it was: our new Christmas tradition — a tradition that represented the next phase of our family life without Dad. This wasn’t a phase we had anticipated would happen so soon, but here we were.

Now we are 18 years on from that Christmas, and we all know that as the holiday approaches, Michael will be doing his panettone for breakfast. We all look forward to it, and we recognize that all those years ago, the toasted panettone and the berries and cream helped to bring just a little bit of joy to a Christmas when we did not know if joy would arrive.

Eighteen years later, we as a family have had new partners arrive, marriages, and children, and lots of people come in and out of our family Christmas. Everyone always raves about our breakfast tradition. They might not know how it came about, or even how important it was to us at the time, but without a doubt everyone leaves the table with a smile!