The Year We Volunteered

3 mn read

The Christmas BC, aka ‘Before Covid’, my Other Half and I decided we’d had enough of lolling about at home on our own every year, going nowhere and doing nothing, stuffing our faces with too much unnecessary extra food and binge-watching rubbish repeats on the telly.

As the dreaded day approached, we roused ourselves from our self-inflicted torpor and asked around for local community volunteering opportunities. The one that appealed most was a nearby church which put on a Christmas feast ‘for those who would otherwise be on their own on Christmas Day’. How kind, we thought.

My tentative email enquiry was answered promptly – do come, and please make a contribution; some table decorations and chocolates or biscuits would be nice – so I shopped for carefully-coordinated, tasteful decorations and the statutory tins of brightly-wrapped festive chocolates – you know the ones.

On the day itself, laden with our bags of goodies, we walked around to the church hall. I should add here that, a few weeks before, the OH had had his annual flu jab, after which he was quite ill for a while, and then most thoughtfully and caringly passed it on to me. So, by the time Christmas Day arrived, he had almost completely recovered, while I was still about a week or so away from peak fitness – though well past the infectious stage, of course.

We’d been told we would be in charge of the drying-up after the meal, but, in view of my wan and pasty appearance, the team decided unanimously to ban me from the kitchen, so the task fell to the OH alone. He didn’t seem to mind too much. And I felt only a brief momentary pang of guilt. It was his fault, after all.

There were several tables set out around the room, full with people of all ages. My carefully-sourced decorations were soon completely covered by plates, glasses, napkins and crackers, as the meal progressed and the room warmed up.

In our complete ignorance of such matters, we hadn’t realised that we, too, would be sitting down to the Christmas lunch. We thought we’d merely be helping out in the background, then going home to cook our own turkey meal, chilling nicely for us in the fridge. So I felt even more guilty as I struggled to eat mine – although the OH was very happy to help me out.

Our little table was a mixed bag. There was the older lady who came from a nearby old folk’s home and was looking forward to receiving her telegram from the Queen the following year (I do hope she made it), the young girl who was dog-sitting locally over the festive period and wanted some company. She’d brought said dog with her: a very well-behaved spaniel, sporting a rather fetching Santa hat while waiting patiently for titbits.

There was the vicar who, along with her husband, had been a teacher elsewhere in the country when, as she put it simply, she’d had the ‘calling’ and they and their children had moved lock, stock and cassock to our neck of the woods. She’d been up hours already, taking the Christmas Morning services and communion, and was looking forward to doing ‘absolutely nothing’ for the rest of the day.  Her husband and children, plus assorted friends, were helping out, too.

The older man sitting next to me was a struggle to engage with; content with merely chuntering to himself, about himself, and not showing any interest in anyone else.  When it came to cracker-pulling, he said: ‘I don’t do crackers, to which which I very firmly replied: ‘Well, I do!’ He had no choice.

After our meal, there were presents for everyone under the tree – more tins of biscuits and chocolates – and carols around the piano. Little Donkey really got to me, for some reason. I blamed my cold.

After that, people started to leave. A kindly local couple had been ferrying people to and from their homes all day. Meanwhile, the stalwart kitchen team were offering leftover food for everyone to take home.

Having felt imposter syndrome at being there at all – after all, technically speaking, we had each other, and therefore weren’t really ‘alone’ as such – I spoke to a woman who informed me brightly she had family living locally, and was off to spend the rest of the day with them. So why was she even there, then? I longed to ask, but didn’t. Another, on being asked by me if she’d enjoyed the day, said rather sniffily (and ungratefully, in my view) she’d had better.

By the time we’d helped to clear the tables and walked home in the encroaching darkness, we agreed it had been a lot of fun, with a bonus free lunch we hadn’t been expecting. If we’d only known, we wouldn’t have bought a turkey for ourselves. Still, it meant we could enjoy another Christmas lunch the following day. Result!

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