Christmas at Hillside

Excerpt from Hungry for Home, by Ruth McKeaney


About a week or two before Christmas, I “wrap” the doors of the dining room to look like two enormous presents. From this day until Christmas, no one but Bob and I may enter the room. Behind its doors, we wrap presents and create other surprises for the kids. You can’t imagine how much they love seeing those wrapped doors and feeling the anticipation of what Bob and I are preparing for them. 


Every Christmas Eve, we make about 400 sweet rolls to give away. It’s a family affair. All seven of us (Bob, me, and the kids) create an assembly line to roll the dough, spread the filling, and fill seemingly endless tins with breakfast sweetness. I wish I could describe how delectable the kitchen smells on “sweet rolls day.”

When all the preparations are finished, one of my daughters prints off the directions to tell each recipient how to let the rolls rise overnight, when to add the cream, and how long they should bake. 

We wrap the rolls carefully, secure the directions on the top with a bright red bow, and load them up in the car. Half the fun is belting out carols as we deliver each Christmas surprise. 

After the last sweet roll is delivered, we stop by our favorite Chinese neighborhood restaurant and order takeout. We dine on Moo Goo Gai Pan, Egg Drop Soup, and fried dumplings by candlelight on my best china. Christmas Eve wouldn’t be Christmas Eve without Chinese. 

As soon as the meal is over, Bob and I lock eyes and count to three. The kids take off to the tree in the den on a crazy hunt to find the “pickle ornament.”


Whoever finds the pickle ornament on the tree has the honor of opening the first “Christmas box.” The Christmas box contains the new things for the year— the new game, new ornament, new puzzle, and most importantly, the new book we will read together.

Everyone fetches their sleeping bags, including Bob and me. In front of the fire in the living room, we spread out in front of the tree and settle in to watch White Christmas. Cozy together, we fall asleep, all seven of us, by the light of the fire.


In the morning, the kids wake us up with coffee and the fire roaring cheerfully. I slip the last tray of sweet rolls (reserved for us!) into the oven. After an enormous brunch, Bob reads the Christmas story, and we take turns opening presents, but only after they’ve found the ceramic baby Jesus that Bob and I have hidden while no one was watching. 

But the sweetest gift of all is the time we spend together. Every single Christmas is a gift, and I value it more than any gift I’ve ever given or received. 

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