Christmas Day Dinner a Long Standing Tradition
For the last 21 years, Communitas has hosted a Christmas dinner for people who would otherwise have nowhere to go on Christmas Day. What most people don’t know, is that this wonderful tradition was borne out of tragedy.
Annette Borrows, pictured above with her friend, Grace, recalls that particular December 25th, 22 years ago. She was working with Communitas in the area of mental health. That Christmas Day, she and several of her colleagues began getting devastating phone calls.
“Some of the people we served had tried to end their lives,” she remembers. “It was awful.”
In the weeks that followed, the staff team met and made a decision that would not only impact the lives of the people they serve but their own lives as well. They decided that they would not let another Christmas Day go by with anyone they supported being alone. The Communitas Christmas Day dinner was born.
There were a few things on which the team insisted.
It had to be on Christmas Day and it had to be more than just a quick meal. We wanted it to be like Christmas Day at anyone’s family home. – Annette, Christmas Day Dinner organizer
Twelve people came to their first dinner. These guests had a voice into what they’d like that day to look like. They chose BBQ’d steak. They played games, like BINGO. They sang songs and each person received gifts. Much of what happens at the annual event today has not changed, the biggest difference is how much it has grown. Today, nearly 60 people come – including the original twelve participants. And including Annette, who has only missed one Christmas Day dinner in 21 years.
“This is my Christmas Day tradition. My whole family comes. My daughter Madison doesn’t know any other kind of Christmas,” she says.
Annette’s mother, who passed away last year, participated for years, making her famous meatballs and baking buns. Madison has now taken over the responsibility of making those meatballs and other volunteers pitch in to make the event happen. Local businesses and Communitas staff people make donations so that everyone who comes goes home with a prize and a gift.
When asked why Christmas seems to be such a difficult time, Annette points her finger firmly at consumerism and the societal pressure to be at a happy, family event on Christmas Day. Imagine, she says, what it feels like if you have limited income and nowhere to go.
“At that time of year, everyone’s asking ‘what are you doing for Christmas?’ If you know you’ll be alone, if you know that you have limited income and can’t afford to buy gifts for anyone, and if you already live with mental health challenges, it can be devastating,” she says. “Knowing that this event is there for you, that it is yours and it won’t change, that is really important.”
The whole experience has deeply impacted Annette on a personal level. Her work at Communitas became foundational to her current work with Community Futures South Fraser as well as her involvement in organizations that support people with developmental disabilities. It has also informed how she celebrates the holiday season.
“I’ve just become sensitive to the commercialism of Christmas,” she says. “It can be a stark reality of the ‘have’ and the ‘have-nots’ in society.”
For her, Christmas Day is about being with family – her own and the people who come to the Communitas Christmas Day dinner.
“This has become the tradition for so many people,” she reflects. “We can’t imagine Christmas any other way.”