For Alyssa Milano, Christmas-time brings plenty of reasons to be festive. "My birthday is Dec. 19, and my husband's is Dec. 17," says the 40-year-old star of ABC's Mistresses
and host of Lifetime's Project Runway All Stars
. "The entire month is about celebrating!" There's even a new(ish) family member to help ring in the fun: 2-year-old Milo, son to Milano and her husband of four years, talent agent David Bugliari. "Milo is starting to really grasp Christmas. We've been talking about Santa since June!"
Milano admits that she loves revisiting favorite childhood traditions with her little guy. "I want to show him Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and all the rest," she says. While she starts planning for the holidays "right after Thanksgiving," the actress confesses she often has to rein in her desire to overdo it. When it comes to decorating, "I go all out" in the L.A.-area English Tudor home she and Bugliari, 34, are now renovating. She says, "I have to remind myself that eventually it all has to come down!"
One of the traditions she's most proud of involves the Christmas tree itself. "We buy live potted trees from landscaping businesses," she says. "They're easier to maintain and they smell amazing. Once Christmas is over, we plant them in the backyard." Another essential home holiday touch is a nativity scene that she and her mom painted 20 years ago. "It is so ugly, but we put it out every single year because we made it together," Milano says, laughing.
Decor aside, the most crucial ingredient is food. "We have a typically Italian meal on Christmas Eve," she says. "We have cold fish salad, and my mom makes a lobster sauce over pasta—and rice balls, big chunks of mozzarella cheese surrounded by rice and peas that are then breaded and fried." This year, for the first time, the Milano women will tackle their holiday meal far from the sunny skies of L.A. "We just got a place in Lake Tahoe," says the actress. "We're going to have a white Christmas! But we've never done the cooking and baking in that house before. It's going to be interesting!"
When it comes to gifts, they open presents from family and friends on Christmas Eve and save Santa's gifts to Milo for Christmas morning. "But instead of wrapping his presents, we just put them out under the tree, so when he wakes up he sees everything all set up." But there's also a certain snowy pastime Milano can't wait for. "I'm going to take him sledding," she says. "I have such great memories growing up in New York of school being closed because everyone was snowed in. My dad used to take me to the store on a sled because we couldn't get around in the car." Milano is eager to make new memories with Milo. "You can be as silly and over-the-top as you can imagine," she says. "This time of year gives me a great excuse to be a kid again."
STRUFFOLI (HONEY BALLS)
Makes 48 balls
1 tbsp. butter, softened
1 tsp. plus ½ cup sugar
2 cups flour, sifted, plus more for dusting
½ tsp. baking powder
1 cup honey
1 qt. vegetable oil
1. In a bowl, whisk together eggs, butter and 1 tsp. sugar until foamy. Sift 2 cups flour with baking powder and stir into the egg mixture. With your hands, work the mixture into a soft dough, then divide into 4 pieces. On a floured surface, roll each piece into a 12-in.-long rope. Cut the ropes into 1-in. pieces and roll into balls. Toss the pieces in flour to dust lightly.
2. In a deep fryer or large pot, heat the oil to 375°. Fry the struffoli, a few handfuls at a time, until puffed and golden brown. Transfer with a slotted spoon to brown paper to drain.
3. In a large saucepan, heat the honey and ½ cup sugar until sugar is dissolved. Add the balls, a few at a time and turn them with a wooden spoon to coat. Transfer the balls to a plate, and mound into a pyramid. Sprinkle with colored sprinkles and let stand 1 to 2 hours before serving.
Cooking Up Some Quality Time
"My mom still does all the cooking because she's the matriarch of the family," says Milano. "I'm the sous chef and the baker." The one exception is the family's traditional Italian cookies known as struffoli. "My mom still makes them every year, and she puts pressure on herself for them to be perfect!" she says. Without them, "Christmas would be incomplete."