A glowing gala: Lawrence family opens home to friends for annual Christmas celebration

A band entertains holiday guests Sunday night at the home of Serina Hearn and Tony Backus.

Tony Backus helps children light candles during a party at his home on Massachusetts Street.

Sofia Thomas, 5, holds a candle during a Christmas tree lighting ritual at a holiday party Sunday at the residence of Serina Hearn and Tony Backus, 1941 Mass.

JSerina Hearn and Tony Backus open up their home on Massachusetts Street to friends and family each year to celebrate the holidays. Many of the party attendees are friends of the couple’s five children.

Serina Hearn and Tony Backus, along with their children, Zoey, Timmia, Simon, Alex and Cecelia, cherish this time of year.

The blended family had one of their first bonding experiences when lighting the candles on their Christmas tree in 2000. The tree-lighting ceremony had always been a tradition with Serina and her children, but now it had grown to include Tony and his brood. The magical effect with the lights dimmed and the tree aglow lending itself to a quiet, contemplative place is truly a magnificent experience. The family decided it was an occasion that should be communal.

“The next year, we wanted to share this magic with our children’s friends and our friends,” Serina says. “It was a way of bringing our two groups of friends together. Not only were we a blended family but a blended village. We would celebrate all generations passing the tradition on of creating light and warmth in the darkest and coldest time of the year.”

Seven years later, the party is still going. The enormous home on Massachusetts Street is rocking from rafters to rugs and seems like a dollhouse when you are standing shoulder to shoulder with fellow revelers. Every doorway is crammed; each stair has a body or two parked there, and the seats are taken with friends and family eating, drinking and encompassing what it is to be merry.

“I know that I can never give all the special people in my life a gift-wrapped present, so this is our way of giving the present that comes without wrapping,” Serina says.

The joint is absolutely jumping with a full 10-plus-piece band, Brother Fresh and the Soul Survivor, playing a funky, rhythmic beat that has everybody dancing. Later the music turned to The Addison Frei Trio with a smooth holiday punch. The instruments and vocals in both ensembles are composed of high school students and friends of the Hearn/Backus kids.

Later the piano takes center stage as the crowd gathers in the parlor to sing carols. The music portion of the gathering grew organically, much like the guest list has over the years.

“One year an impromptu ensemble was created when one guest brought a French horn and then convinced others to join in — a clarinet, flute, piano all playing Christmas music,” Serina says.

The party has matured as their children have aged, with a slew of teens and twentysomethings populating the house, but no one can deny the unmistakable allure that the lighting of the tree still holds true, particularly for the children. The excitement is spread across their faces like Santa himself just plopped out of the hearth. They can sense this is a glorious opportunity to create something magical.

As for Tony and Serina, she says, “We want to share with friends, family and neighbors. Here we are again — one more year we’ve made it. We couldn’t have done it without each other.”

— Jennifer Oldridge, a Kansas University graduate, is an avid gardener who previously operated a landscaping business.