Christmastime can be a lonely period for Diana Gough.
Having left a long-term marriage in 2007 – she was with her husband for 50 years – she went from celebrating in a traditional family style to more or less keeping to herself.
The Sidney resident says she was grateful that around that time, she discovered a tradition that for 11 years has aimed to make the day a little less lonely for people who have lost a partner or whose family is far away.
“I think it’s one of the best things that ever happened to me,” she says of the annual Christmas Day Peninsula community dinner at the Mary Winspear Centre, which attracted more than 200 people last year.
Separating from a family situation causes one to “lose all the rituals,” says Gough, 71, noting her two daughters live in Ontario and Washington state and have their own families. “All my (adult) life I prepared dinners for the family and for my husband.”
Now someone else is looking after the meal and she gets to focus on the social aspects of the event.
The lunch features turkey and all the trimmings, entertainment and a visit from Santa. It’s all cooked up and served by a team of between 30 and 40 volunteers, led by Isabell Yoxall. Members of the Sidney Lions provide rides for people unable or unlikely to use public transit or cabs.
“The people that are there are just so happy to see you,” Gough says. “You’re part of a family, part of a community.”
Doreen Patterson, 80, and her husband, who is 84, booked a table of eight for the meal, including their son, three friends and a couple from their bridge club. The Pattersons attended the event for the first time several years back and, with the exception of last year, have made it a part of their Christmas plans.
“We used to be in Calgary and had a lot of family that got together and cooked together. Now we’re reduced to just the three of us and friends. It’s not the same,” she says.
It’s not only the diners who are made to feel special. Shirley Lewis, 76, has volunteered at the dinner for five years, having linked up with Beacon Community Services. Widowed almost 14 years ago and struck by feelings of sadness around the season still today, she felt an immediate kinship with her fellow volunteers.
“We all have something in common with being alone, for one thing,” she says. “The women come all dressed up and we make it a happy day for all of those who come. It’s a good day for me.”
While no tickets are sold for the meal, donations are gratefully accepted onsite, or at Scotiabank, 2355 Beacon Ave.
Two sittings are available, at 11 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., and reservations are a must, by calling Wendy Warshawski at 250-656-7678 during the day.