As long as I can remember, my mom's side of the family, the MANESS family, has gotten together for Christmas Eve. Just like Thanksgiving, we have a potluck meal with lots of yummy food. When I was very small, we gathered at Mamaw and Papaw's house, but for many years we have taken turns hosting Christmas Eve at different houses. In 1996 I wrote down what food we had: turkey, stuffing, potato and sweet potato casseroles, artichoke dip, pinto beans, salad, pecan pie "and lots more!"
When my generation was little (school-age), each family branch gave us a gift and got a gift for my grandparents. After we grew up and starting having our own families, we drew names at Thanksgiving to give one nice present on Christmas Eve. Last year, we did away with the present thing. The family has grown and sometimes the name drawn would be almost a stranger. Less stress for the women of the family, who tend to do most of the shopping, and for the breadwinners, who save some money.
Again, when we were little, the church held a cantata and candlelight service late on Christmas Eve. Sometimes we went to the service, but 11pm seemed to feel later and later, and as we stopped going, the church changed to a Sunday morning service the week of Christmas. We had a couple of attempts to incorporate the Christmas story into the family gathering - my little cousin performed his own cantata one year. We enjoyed it, but never kept up with a particular tradition.
In 1992, before I knew about scrapbooking, I bought a Christmas book. Every Christmas Eve, we sign our names in it and write down the big events that happened in our family that year.
We always enjoy being together. Our fourth generation has to leave early to celebrate with in-laws, and some have started staying home with their babies. But many of us stick around just to visit. The women gravitate toward the kitchen with cups of coffee for our "hen party," and the men relax in the living room to talk about hunting or cars.
I think as long as my (3rd) generation is able, we will keep gathering on Christmas Eve. We cherish our time together - and good food! - too much to give it up.