We turn left onto our gravel lane from our country road, driving towards the Christmas light glow of our white farmhouse at the top of the hill. I still call it “home,” though I haven’t lived there in more than 50 years.

But, it’s Christmas Eve at Mom and Dad’s … and Mom has held court on this night forever. The parents raised eight kids on these 280 acres, so she gets to choose her night to celebrate.

There are cars parked everywhere in front of the house, and Dad’s machine shed, as most of siblings and families have arrived before us. 

The door to the house opens, and love spills out, with the original 8, their spouses, grandkids and now 15 greats joining in a boisterous cacophony. There’s Mom, sitting at the bar that divides the kitchen from the little dining room, decked out in her Christmas sweater, reveling in the crazy all around her. 

Dad, baby brother Sam and sister Cindy orchestrate the feast. Lively conversation is all around … exuberance over the Chiefs hopeful year, and more than a few jabs at my Broncos and my nephew’s Raiders. 

The little ones go first in the buffet line of four or five meats, a row of casseroles and salads ending at the drink selection of water or iced tea, and possibly a sip of Aunt Debbie’s wine.

In years past we’ve used Mom’s Christmas plates, but now conveniently use festive paper products.  Uncle Sam’s chocolate cake, Uncle Greg’s cookies and Aunt Lori’s sweets are displayed on the counter, and coffee is brewed. 

The rule is … no gifts until the dishes are done, and in days past it was the grandchildren’s chore, monitored by Grandpa.  With the kitchen cleaned, now … it is time for mayhem!

Mom and Dad sit in their chairs in the long living room and all gather round in anticipation. Long ago Dad decreed no gifts after age 18, stating we all need nothing other than being together on this night. A couple of the older grandkids pass out Santa’s gifts to grands and greats, who have staked their claim on a small section of floor.  

Grandpa says, “OK … OPEN!”  Joyous chaos of paper flies everywhere. It doesn’t take long, but is the crescendo of another perfect Christmas Eve. 

Many of us settle in to wait to go to St. Gregory’s Midnight Mass … and we are so grateful that our parish priest celebrates it at 10 p.m.

-Patty (Zech) Hutt

(Patty is the daughter of John and Shirley Zech. John will turn 88 on Christmas Day, making their event all the more special.)