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Whether it be staying true to the Southern food she grew up eating or every year bringing the same dish to her family’s Thanksgiving dinner, Damaris Phillips is all about tradition, and there’s perhaps no more important time for tradition than the holidays. For Damaris, this season of celebration means just a few things — family, food and love — and that hasn’t changed since she was a young girl growing up with her five siblings in Louisville, Ky. Just in time for Christmas, FN Dish sat down with Damaris in Louisville to find out more about what the holidays looked like for her when she was a child and to chat about how she celebrates today. Read on below to hear from Damaris and to learn the must-have item at her Christmas dinner, her favorite holiday song and movie, and her sweet alternative to eggnog.
How did you celebrate the holidays growing up?
Damaris Phillips: With my family. There’s a bunch of siblings and so we’d would go downstairs in the morning. We’d wake my parents up. My mom would make, like, quiche or cinnamon rolls or something, and we’d go downstairs and there was always, like, bags of our presents. Our parents were really good at, like, not wrapping Santa presents, so if there was, like, a bicycle, there’d be just a bicycle there waiting for you. And then we would hang out and play with toys — and eat lots of food. I mean, just exactly like you think of Christmas …. It used to be the whole world went still and it was just a time to hang out with your family. So thankfully I had all those siblings, so it was always fun, and we were playing with new toys and probably driving my parents bonkers, but it was awesome.
How do you celebrate the holidays now?
DP: Exactly the same. So for me, the only difference is if I have a partner — a suitor. I like to open my presents as late as humanly possible to, like, extend the holiday. So I’ll even wait till the day after Christmas [to open presents] …. It gets so crazy with families. Like, if you have your family and then your partner’s family, and then heaven forbid you go to extended family, then there’s no time, and you don’t want to be rushed with that. My favorite is, like, Christmas night to play board games and open presents — and have a bottle of wine.
What are some of your family’s holiday food traditions?
DP: We always make turkey. Like, we don’t make one turkey; they make four because we like to have leftovers. And we go to my extended family’s, and so heaven forbid we don’t have six turkeys left over for sandwiches.
Do you have a favorite holiday song?
DP: I love Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You.” That one’s so good. I also have always loved “The First Noel.”
Do you have a favorite holiday movie?
DP: I could literally watch Love, Actually. Of course, because it’s ideal Christmas. Like, I think that’s what you thought was going to happen on Christmas Eve, like, some guy was going to show up and confess their love and it was all going to begin.
What’s your favorite Christmas cookie?
DP: I really like those tins of cookies …. I like the one that looks like it was piped out with a big star tip and has those big granules of sugar. I will eat all of those and leave the rest of them …. I will also eat the ones that are kind of like rectangular-square shaped with granules of sugar on the top. All from a tin. I also love Christmas popcorn, the, like, tins of popcorn that you get. Don’t love the cheddar — it turns your fingers orange. I like the white cheddar and plain and then the caramel.
Any tips for modernizing eggnog?
DP: You make it from scratch …. The only thing about eggnog is I don’t get down with nutmeg that much. I do love boiled custard, though. It’s almost the same as eggnog but a little bit less eggnog. I love a boiled custard.
What’s boiled custard?
DP: It’s custard. It’s a thin custard.