Friday night before Christmas, at the Spruce Grove Field house, 80 guests are about to sit down for dinner. Lights are dimmed, candles lit as groups at each table work together on gingerbread houses. The fat man in the red suit is here, as are several mature-looking elves, doubling as servers.
Hosted by LUNA, Whistler’s youth activity and support arm, in co-operation with a Whistler seniors group the annual dinner provides a venue for young seasonal newcomers to learn more about Whistler from the older, long time residents who serve dinner. Funded through a grant organized by Whistler Community Services Society, seven Whistler seniors purchase food, which is then prepared by LUNA staff and served by the seniors to the newcomers, many of whom are thousands of miles away from home.
“They can have their Christmas dinner with us and it will feel like their new family,” said LUNA head Kiran Pal.
Co-organizer Jessie Pendygrasse says the dinner is a way for seniors to connect with Whistler’s youth.
It’s an extension of the society’s interim housing project, which ended in November, in which seniors met with newcomers who were housed temporarily at a local bed and breakfast. The seniors helped boost the youths’ morale by helping them cook and giving them insider tips on surviving in Whistler.
“They’re all about integrating with young adults and inter-generational contact,” said Janet McDonald, the society’s head.
Other Whistlerites, like Leslee Wake and Sandra Epplett, continue the ski town’s tradition of including newcomers at Christmas.
Businesswoman Wake is continuing a tradition instituted by her mother, long-time resident Lil Goldshmid, and including guests at the family Christmas table. Although Goldshmid said guests have sometime outnumbered family at the feast, Wake has decided to limit invitations to one or two of her Rogers’ Chocolates staff that don’t have a dinner to attend.
“We’re not a religious family,” Wake said, “It’s just something we’ve always done.”
A teacher at Spring Creek Community School, Epplett has been providing room at the family feast for almost 30 years. Epplett said she was inspired by hospitality she and her young family received when travelling and being offered shelter in the Cook Islands. She not only invites off-duty RCMP officers for dinner, she also produces a Ukrainian Christmas dinner on Jan. 6 for up to 40 people. Her children, now grown, bring friends who have been coming since they were teenagers.
“The whole family does it,” Epplett said. Our kids are used to bringing home their friends and people that don’t have anywhere to go. I think it’s about paying it forward.”