Written by Holly Stiller of Port Perry, Ontario

There is nothing better than being a little kid at Christmas time. You write to Santa begging for that Barbie dream house, or Xbox system while also trying to memorize the verses of “Away in a Manger” for the church pageant. There are snowmen to build, and gingerbread houses to decorate. Everything is perfect, and you get that special Christmas feeling in your stomach.

Christmas gets a lot different as you get older. The whole “Santa” thing doesn’t really work anymore. Christmas is a time of reassurance for Christians, but it can also be the hardest time of year for many people.

A few years ago, our church started asking some questions: How can we reach out to our community around Christmas? How can we move away from our culture’s materialistic traditions? We decided as a church family to host a Christmas dinner for our community, inviting anyone and everyone for a big turkey dinner on Christmas Day.

We didn’t want it to be something to add to our Christmas Day to-do list, but rather something significant to focus on. My family made this church dinner our own Christmas Day dinner. Some of the dinner guests also come to our Christmas morning service. Then we all gather downstairs to share a special time together. Most people who join us are either seniors who are alone, or young families.

It isn’t intended to force any of our church traditions on others. It’s about coming together as one family in Christ to make new memories and traditions together. We play games with the kids and sing old carols together. New friendships are made, real conversations and connections happen as we come together and celebrate. Hosting this event feels more in tune with the reason we are meant to celebrate Christmas in the first place- that Jesus came. The entire event focuses on redemption, community, and meeting people where they’re at.

After the dinner, when I’ve eaten tons of homemade pie, played charades (a game I usually hate) and learned about what my town was like back in the day, I leave with a sense of wonder and, yes, that special Christmas feeling.