Monday, November 24, 2008
Christmas Day dinner in Dunedin
I have mentioned in passing our Christmas Day dinner at the church here. Let me tell you about it.
20 years ago, about two weeks before Christmas a local radio station wandered the town interviewing people about Christmas. One of our youth group members heard the interviews and came to me. He was astounded that for so many people Christmas was a lousy and lonely time. He asked me if we could do something about it. So we letterbox dropped all the pensioner cottages with an invitation saying simply that some of us are having our Christmas down at the church. If they would like company on Christmas day, give us a ring and join us. We were aware that the Salvation Army provided Christmas Dinner for needy people, we were targeting ours for lonely people. We set up a system where we had people at tables of 6 - 8 people with a host to care for the people at each table, just as you would in your own home. We wanted to communicate that this is not a bunch of people giving a Christmas dinner for unfortunates... but a bunch of people celebrating Christmas and you can join them. That first Christmas we had 37 guests, I think about 50 of us altogether. These days we have levelled off with about 230-240 people. The Salvation Army now refer people too us.
One Christmas I jokingly suggested to a bunch of firefighters that they should come help, and by the next week they had it all organised. Since about 1996 Dunedin Firefighters have been involved helping serve up. There have been lots of fun and funny stories over the years, which I won't bore you with.
We offer people transport to and from the meal. Where as it used to be a bunch of church people doing it, now we are the facilitators for a community Christmas dinner. We have volunteers from the community booking in early to be allowed to help out. Many of the volunteers are there because they too would be lonely or want extra company on Christmas day.
It is hard to believe that my wife and I have been leading this venture for 20 years this year! Our friends David and Anne Coulter put in heaps of energy for most of those years, helping to lead the venture. Now days generally Jean and I and our daughter Angela and her husband David do the background organising of it.
We still stick to the original philosophy. "We are there celebrating Christmas, come join us." We still have hosts at each table eating their meal with their guests and joining in conversation. It is funny, some people who ring to volunteer are shocked. "I don't want to eat with them! I am happy to serve them dinner!" We sometimes turn volunteers away saying... "This is the way we do it, company and respect are an important part of what we offer. We're sorry if you can't see yourself fitting into that."
I have heaps to do this week if it is going to get off the ground. It is full on in the lead up to Christmas and we collapse at about 3:30p.m. on Christmas Day and enjoy our Christmas as a family, still buzzing about the people we have been privileged to share with. It will be the same this year. Wish us luck.