After a stormy day, the night was still.
Fresh snow clung to the tips of tree branches and blanketed the rooftops in white. Just a few people were outside, working to clear the walkways leading to the historic homes at This Is the Place Heritage Park.
They were preparing for visitors to the park's annual "Candlelight Christmas," which runs until Dec. 23 this year. The park's historic homes are open, and the public can participate in holiday activities and learn about pioneer life.
Suddenly, a group of young voices broke the silence. The Horlacher family, all dressed in pioneer clothing, arrived en masse at the old Gardiner cabin, with older siblings taking charge of their exuberant younger siblings.
"Should we start a fire?" one sister asked.
"Someone close the door — we're freezing," another sibling said.
It's a study of organized chaos. The Horlachers are a family of 11 from Layton, with children ranging from ages 16 to three months. They are volunteering a few nights this holiday season to re-create pioneer life inside the old Gardiner cabin, which is 13 feet by 22 feet and was home during the 1800s to a family of 12 living in the Salt Lake Valley.
"It gives you a perspective of what it was really like here," father Zann Horlacher said. "Our family is close to the size of the family here."
About two weeks ago, they settled in for a three-hour shift at the cabin, which has no electricity. Younger children were bundled up in blankets and coats while sisters Olivia, 16, and Raychel, 14, took turns watching the family's baby, William, 3 months.
Zann Horlacher helped start a fire, while his wife, Teena Horlacher, managed to give an interview while keeping an eye on Adam, 2, and Caroline, 4, who were seated near some candles on the table.
"I love for my kids to be able to see the pioneer way of life," said Teena Horlacher, who has volunteered at This Is the Place for eight years. "Our home is like 15 times the size of this."
During the evening, they cooked an authentic dinner with sausage, potatoes and carrots. A few weeks ago, the kids made paper chains to decorate the cabin, which is one room filled with a small bed, fireplace and table. There is also a small loft where the Gardiner boys once slept.
The Horlacher children said they love being at This is the Place because they can play and be with family. Home can often be busy, Raychel Horlacher said.6 comments on this story
"This brings us together as a family," she said.
Holly Curtis, volunteer coordinator for This Is the Place, said she would encourage people to attend "Candlelight Christmas" because of its emphasis on family and heritage. It runs every night but Sunday, and various families such as the Horlachers will re-create pioneer life throughout the park.
"This is a great way to get away from the hustle and bustle of what modern-day Christmas has become," Curtis said.