ESSAYS FROM WEST OF 98: 365 DAYS A YEAR

By James M. Decker

I’ve written in this space several times about Stamford’s Christmas Day dinner. Several weeks ago I wrote that this dinner has a simple mission, to ensure that no one in Stamford is forced to spend Christmas Day alone. This event began 31 years ago and in that first year, served 75 meals primarily to shut-ins. Over the years, the event has grown to encompass delivery, take-out, and dine-in options. 

This year, those options combined to provide a record 800 meals, over 25% of the town’s population. Almost 600 meals were served via delivery alone. It took 36 turkeys, 32 double recipes of dressing, hundreds of slices of ham and dozens of gallons of green beans and sweet potatoes. Most importantly, it took an army of volunteers. Over 100 people from across the community prepared ingredients ahead of time, cut pies and packed fruit on Christmas Eve, arrived at the church at 2 am on Christmas Day to begin cooking, and spent their Christmas Day serving and delivering meals, and ultimately, cleaning up the aftermath. 

The Christmas Day dinner is an exciting, exhausting, energizing affair. It’s easy to wonder if you have enough energy to power through another year. Then, the dinner happens and you know you’d never, ever miss one. It is often said that sharing a table and a meal is one of the most powerful, leveling experiences that a group of people can have together. Every year, I look across the dining room and I am reminded of the accuracy of that statement. I see people sitting side-by-side whose paths might never otherwise cross, from all ages, backgrounds, and creeds. Then I see something even more special. They don’t just wolf down a meal at the same table and then depart. They eat. Then they trade desserts. They re-fill each other’s drinks. They talk to each other’s kids. They visit about their lives. They STAY. Together. One regular volunteer told me that 40 years ago, he never dreamed that he’d spend Christmas Day like this, serving and eating a meal with hundreds of people who aren’t just people in the same community, they’re family. 

This year, I took the opportunity to deliver a few meals and I was reminded of something very important. What we do on Christmas Day in Stamford is a wonderful experience, but it lasts only one day a year. The Christmas Day dinner serves a variety of needs in peoples’ lives—food, companionship, and encouragement of one another. But those needs are present in our communities the other 364 days a year too.

How can we bring the spirit of the Christmas Day dinner to our community year round? What can we do to uplift our fellow community members all 365 days of ever year? Ultimately, the food is important, but the dinner is about more than food. It’s about uplifting everyone, regardless of age, background, creed, or other specific need. I’m not quite sure how we can bring that to our community for 365 days, but I do know that it matters and Lord willing, we’re going to figure out how.

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James Decker is a lawyer, farmer, and mayor in Stamford, Texas, and the creator of the forthcoming “West of 98” podcast and website. He may be contacted through Facebook at facebook.com/james.decker. Listen to our podcast interview with James here.

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