By Mike Bush

ST. LOUIS (KSDK) - When it comes to this troupe of actors, there's one thing you can always count on: they'll be home for Christmas.

"We call ourselves the Christmas players," explains Director Kathleen Carter-Groppe

They are in the final days of rehearsals for the debut of the new show "Elf is as Elf does."

"There's the contemporary elves which really want to change tradition and bring in new traditions," explains 17-year-old Claire Dieckmann. "And then there's the traditional elves who want to keep everything the same and don't want to change anything."

"The clash pretty much freezes Christmas. Christmas just might not make it this year," adds Carter-Groppe.

When the curtain finally comes up, a standing room only crowd is expected. In part, because there's only one performance and because there's limited seating.

The theater is in the basement of Marie and Jerry Carter's St. Louis home.

"They take over the house and I don't mind at all," says Jerry Carter.

Every year for the last 40 years, the Carter family has put on a Christmas Eve show for family, friends and even strangers.

The tradition began on a snowy night back in 1973 with the six Carter children, five girls and a boy plus some kids in the neighborhood.

"I think that we were probably driving my mom crazy and she said that we needed to and she said go do something. Go put on a show," recalls Karen Carter.

Everyone had so much fun, they put on another show the next year. And the next. And the next.
Eventually, moving from the hallway to the basement. And now that the Carter children have had children, there's a new generation of Christmas players.

"We get to do it every Christmas eve and all of my cousins are in it and I love to be with my cousins," laughs 8-year-old Maggie Krekeler.

In Christmases past and Christmas present, Carter-Groppe is the writer-director.

"We have a 4th of July party at my house," she explains, "and people will say what's the play going to be about this year? And I'll say, I don't know, give me some ideas."

And everyone in the family is involved. Those who aren't acting are building the sets or sewing the costumes.

"It's the one tradition we stick to every year," says Dieckmann

There's one other tradition the family sticks to. As admission, they ask for donations.

"I never tell them to bring their check book but they are very , very generous," says Jerry Carter.

At first, it was canned goods for the needy. Now, they go shopping and wrap presents for struggling families they've learned about through the Special School District's Project Hope.

"I really, truly, wholeheartedly believe in the magic of Christmas and every time we do this play it's magic," says Karen Carter.

So, come Christmas Eve when people pass by the Carter house and ask, "Do you hear what I hear?" They can rest assured that thanks to one family and some very special friends, The holiday spirit is not only alive and well, it's center stage.