A Christmas Tradition
by Mary Maxie
My dad wasn’t religious at all. The only time he went to church was for his own wedding, and to watch me as my church girls’ group did the annual Christmas Eve candlelight service.
However, he was an anonymous donor to all churches in our small town, with the proviso that no one could ever know that he was the one who paid. He professed to have no religion, yet was the biggest Christmas fan ever. He bought the biggest tree, put up the most lights on our house, handed out buttons that said “Have a nice Christmas” and used his small weekly newspaper to urge people to shop locally.
However, his best Christmas idea was to start a local tradition that continues to this day, way back in 1975. He knew that many people had nowhere to have Christmas dinner, nor anyone to have it with. He asked for volunteers, got the Elks club to open on Christmas Day, cook turkeys and all the trimmings and provide dinner to about 150 or more people for free. He bought the food, and paid all the expenses, including live entertainment. All his kids, sons and daughters-in-law and grandkids were the servers, and the dinner was advertised on posters around town, in his newspaper, on the local radio station, with Dad absorbing all the costs.
Dinner was served from noon to four, so we could stay home in the morning to open our presents. Volunteers brought pies and fruitcakes, and wine. We served everyone from single people, to those who were too old to cook, or to travelers who were passing through town, finding all the restaurants closed for the day. People who couldn’t afford a big holiday dinner, plus those who didn’t celebrate Christmas in any other way, or whose religions didn’t observe the Christian holiday were welcome too. In the early years when my mom was still able to do all the cooking at home, we’d go home for dinner. When she got too frail to do a big meal, we ate at the Elks’ Club too. After we closed the doors, my family and some of the volunteer families served ourselves our own Christmas dinner.
The tradition continues with my family who still live in town, doing the same dinner year after year, and many people attend every year.
I don’t know if people know it was Dad who did the meal. In his way, he showed the Christian spirit in our little town, although he denied doing anything special. I have fond memories of teaching all the grandkids from a young age, that giving was more the spirit of Christmas than getting stuff. Those grandkids are now adults with their own kids serving dinner on Christmas, learning the lesson of giving.
I believe Dad gave us all a special gift with his humble dinner—the gift of serving others and sharing all that we had with those who needed cheer and good company on Christmas Day.