Cleveland’s Paul and Sarah Sausville and their children, Seth, Caleb and Isaac, join Sarah’s extended family each year on Christmas Day for the annual pepperoni celebration. Another tradition, the serving of homemade waffles on Christmas morning, now begins this festive winter occasion.
According to Mrs. Sausville, the pizza story began in Joshua, Texas, in 1985, when Sarah and her two sisters, Tracey and Melissa, joined their parents, Keith and Marla Habermas, in a crowded pizza parlor.
“My mom and my dad had been talking — a huge meal at Christmas was not conducive to three little girls. My dad said, ‘Let’s go see what we can find.’”
While the Habermas couple wanted the day to be special for their daughters, it was a difficult to find any restaurants open for a meal on Christmas Day. Joshua, at the time, Sarah said, literally had one red light and a Dairy Queen. “We had to go to another [nearby] city,” she explained. They found a pizza place called, she thinks, “Mazio’s.” “I’m not even sure how to spell it,” she remarked.
The restaurant was open and packed. “We ate there and we didn’t eat out a lot. There were self-serving drink machines and, as little kids, we would push every [lever]. It became our tradition.”
Waffles accompany pizza on Christmas Day in the Habermas family. Sarah’s parents began their happy family habit as newlyweds, when they received a waffle iron as a wedding gift. Waffles are still cooked until they are golden and toasty on that same 35-year-old grill, which is as enduring as the family.
The Sausvilles continue the family custom every year, although not always easily. “It became tricky because nothing opens,” Sarah said. To solve that problem, the parents purchase pizza on Christmas Eve to refrigerate it, then heat it, the next day. One Christmas, the pizza was “like uncooked dough” and had to be more thoroughly cooked. “It was unfinished,” Sarah recalled amusingly.
One time in Michigan, she went on, “we had to buy frozen pizza.” That year, the pizza burned around the edges. “You just cut off the burned part and eat it anyway,” Sarah declared.
“It’s always pepperoni,” she commented. “My kids know nothing else.”
“The best part is there’s no preparation,” Mrs. Sausville continued. “As an adult, you want to sit in the floor and you want to play [with your children]. It makes it more family-friendly.”
If not for the pizza tradition, she added, “my mother would be cooking and cleaning” all Christmas day.
Still, more traditional Christmas fare is served on Christmas Eve. The whole family, which is meeting this year at the Habermas home in Birmingham, Ala., attends a Christmas Eve service before opening gifts and enjoying Christmas ham, potatoes, bread, green beans and other customary Christmas dishes.
Now that the Habermas girls are adults, they can help their mother prepare the more difficult meal. The next day, they just pop a pizza in the oven as the family gathers around the warmth.