"Oh, Grandad look it has been snowing over night", said Stella. She was very excited, as her and her family were spending their Christmas holidays with Grandad. They had arrived last night and it was 5 days until Christmas and there was lot's to do. Everyone else was still asleep, but Grandad always got up early and Stella knew that and had crept downstairs to join him. As they drank their coffee, Stella told Grandad all about school, she absolutely loved school and told him all about the school play she had taken part in. The play had been about the spirit of Christmas, past and present.
"I told my teacher about what you do every Christmas Grandad." said Stella "Oh, you mean setting an extra place for absent friends" said Grandad. "Yes and my teacher put that into our play, everyone loved that Grandad." Replied Stella. Stella thought for a minute and then said "Grandad why are so many people alone over Christmas?"
Grandad smiled, he loved his granddaughter, she was so caring, she really cared about people. He giggled, because he knew he could never say no to her and she would not stop asking until he answered her. "Society has changed Stella, in my day, it was all about loving and caring for people and having things, today it's about loving and caring for things and not people. Today, once the front door is shut, people forget what's outside the front door, some people don't even know the name of their neighbours." Said Grandad.
"That's sad Grandad, my generation need to change that, it's only 5 days to Christmas, let's see if we can get 5 people who are alone to spend Christmas day with a family." replied Stella. Stella looked at Grandad, Grandad knew that stare only too well and then said laughing "Yes and we will be the first one to invite someone for Christmas Day, we can ask Betty, who lives at number 10." Stella gave Grandad a huge hug and thanked him. Grandad then said " You know Betty she is very stubborn, so we will both go and see her together."
"Can we go after breakfast, pretty please?" Said Stella, Grandad nodded and told Stella to wake up the rest of the family for breakfast. After breakfast they walked over to Betty's house. Betty invited them in and Stella told her, about wanting to invite her for Christmas Day, Betty listened, but said no thank you. Stella thought for a moment and then said "that's a shame, I wanted to start this club for Christmas called " Christmas + One and you were going to be my first member. Then Stella stayed quiet, waiting for Betty to reply. "I would be the first?" asked Betty. "Yes, Betty I promise." replied Stella. "Well it would be rude to refuse," answered Betty as she winked at Stella's Grandad.
During a cup of tea, Stella asked Betty if she knew any other people who would be alone at Christmas. After 20 minutes Stella had a very long list and was sad that just in this area, there were so many people who were going to be alone. Grandad said that they could take 2 more, but after that it would be a tight squeeze. As they walked home Stella said "Grandad it can't be right so many people are alone at Christmas and it's even more sad, that it's all ages." Grandad agreed with her and said he would make a few phone calls and see what he could do.
Before the day was over, Grandad had a plan, he was a member of a walking club and had been on the phone all day chatting to the other members. One of the members called Toni, had a restaurant which was going to be closed over Christmas, but Grandad had convinced him to open it for Christmas Day, he was reluctant at first, but when Grandad said he would put Stella on the phone, he agreed. Then Grandad went to see other members, one was a butcher, the other was a greengrocer and by 2 in the afternoon, Grandad had a restaurant and all the food for 80 people.
As Grandad was sitting there telling Stella all his news, the phone rang, it was his friend who owned the restaurant, he told Grandad, he told his staff what he was doing and they all offered to come in Christmas Day. They would open the restaurant at 10 in the morning, serve coffee and mince pies, lunch at 12.30 and then tea at 4. he had spoken to the other members and whatever he was short of, they would supply. Grandad had an extra surprise for Stella and he sat her down and told her, in addition to this, the restaurant would be running a buffet all day long for those in the emergency services, so while on duty they can pop in for a hot turkey roll. Stella ran over to Grandad and hugged him tight. "Thank you Grandad." she said.
Stella was a huge fan of the emergency services, she wanted when she was old enough to join one of the emergency services. So when Grandad told her about the all day buffet she was over the moon. She smiled, her Grandad knew her so well and she loved him to bits. She sat down and started to make a list of what she needed to do, she was going to need the help of a couple of people she knew, she wanted to put up some posters around the area, to let the emergency services know and wanted to also put a poster up in the local police station, ambulance station and fire station. Grandad said it would be nice to put one up in the local hospital too.
By the afternoon of the following day Grandad and his friends had a list of 80, but they had a problem, many of the people who wanted to come, were very proud people and wanted to pay for their Christmas lunch and tea. Stella thought for a moment and said " Grandad I have been thinking, what about if we had a barrel full of presents for those who pop into the buffet. Those who are coming for lunch and tea bring a present to put in the barrel, they can bring something they have made or buy something."
Grandad replied, "that's a wonderful idea and they will accept that." Grandad had as a young man served in the army and some of his friends were not only veterans too but also members of the walking club. "Grandad are there any veterans coming to the restaurant? asked Stella. Grandad replied "only 3." Stella thought for a while and said "what about if we invited them to our buffet, then they can come when they wish and stay as long as they want?" Grandad looked at his granddaughter and wondered how someone so young had such a mature head on her and full of such compassion. He realised that she had remembered when he was going through a rough time and how the whole family had helped him through it.
Grandad hugged his granddaughter so tight, with tears in his eyes and said "they would love that very much." Stella then said "we can ask everyone coming to lunch and tea, if they can afford it, to bring 2 presents to put in the barrel, so that the veterans have a present too." Grandad giggled and said "I better hit the phone again, seems we are going to need more turkey and other bits." Stella laughed and replied "sorry Grandad." Within an hour Grandad had all he needed, everyone thought Stella's idea of including veterans was wonderful. Stella and Grandad went over to his friends restaurant and worked out with the friend where to have the buffet and the barrel of presents.
The next day Stella and her friends started to make the posters to put up around the area. Everyone was excited about Christmas day, the whole family had offered to help in the restaurant too, which made Grandad very proud of every single one of them. What also made Grandad so proud, was once a number of veterans heard about what the community was doing for them, they offered to help move the tables and set up the buffet area. This was going to be a big help and make it easier for the restaurant staff.
One of the veterans had a large wine barrel and had already taken it to the restaurant, Stella and her friends had decorated it and the people who had been invited to lunch and tea on Christmas day had started to fill it with presents. Diners at the restaurant seeing this had asked the staff what was going on and after dining at the restaurant, returned later with presents to put in the barrel.
Stella and Grandad spent the afternoon, taking posters to the police station, fire station, ambulance station and the local hospital and puttingthem up for the staff. Stella's friends also put posters up around the area and finally Grandad and Stella put one up in the village hall. Grandad's friends and other veterans, were also putting the word out. The phone rang and it was Toni who owned the restaurant, Grandad listened and then said "oh." That stopped Grandad and Stella in their tracks, Grandad listened some more and then said "Are you sure Toni, what did the customers say?" Grandad continued to listen and then put the phone down.
He then told Stella, that there was so much preparation to do, that he decided to close for Christmas Eve, so he spoke to the 5 parties booked in for Christmas Eve and not one complained once Toni told them what he was doing on Christmas Day. He went on to say, they also said that they would like to donate what they would have paid for the evening towards the day. Toni thanked them on behalf of all those attending and invited them to pop in during the day, as everyone would want to thank them.
It was the 23rd of December, everything was going really well, Toni had all the supplies he needed and still business's were calling in with additional supplies. Toni had rang Grandad at lunch time, told him, that there was enough food to ensure anyone who came in for the buffet could enjoy tea too. It had been arranged that everyone would be at the restaurant by 10 on Christmas eve, Toni and his kitchen staff would start at 8, so that they can get everything done.
"Stella, you don't think this is too much do you? Said Grandad. Stella came in the room and saw Grandad standing by the window. "Grandad really!" They both laughed and Grandad agreed a bow tie was too much. For the rest of afternoon and the evening all of them relaxed and watched TV, as the next two days were going to be really busy. While Stella and Grandad were making coffee in the kitchen, he gave her a big hug and told her she should be very proud of what she has done. Stella smiled and replied "Without you and your friends especially Toni, this would not be happening." "Yes, but you reminded us, what the real spirit of Christmas is all about." Said Grandad.
As promised at 10 in the morning they all arrived at the restaurant, the veterans were hard at work moving tables, setting up the buffet area and seating area. They were even in the kitchen helping with preparing the food. As they entered the restaurant Toni said hello to everyone and then turned to Stella and said "Stella there are some friends of yours in the kitchen." Stella walked into the kitchen to be faced with a mountain of turkeys. "Toni" She said, then she giggled and then she heard a roar of laughter behind her and turned round to see Toni and Grandad. For the rest of the day everyone worked very hard and by 6 in the evening everything was ready for the big day tomorrow.
For the last hour, Stella was in the kitchen, helping prepare the food, Grandad and everyone else wanted to finish the restaurant and then show it to Stella. Stella was so excited, that last hour seemed like a day, but finally Grandad came into the kitchen and asked Stella to come and look. The restaurant looked amazing, everywhere was decorated, the tables looked amazing and it was just perfect. Stella was then given a gift to put in the barrel, to make sure it went on top of the barrel, which she did. As Toni turned the lights off, Stella stood there just for a moment, even in the dark, the restaurant looked magical and she could not wait to see it full of people tomorrow.
Since Betty agreed to come to lunch, the number reached 80 very quickly, which made Stella happy, but sad. She was sad, because so many people would have been alone over Christmas. Over the past couple of days, her and Grandad, had been dropping off the invitations and she will never forget the big smiles everyone had. Everyone was happy to bring 2 presents, some of the ladies were knitters, some of the men loved working with wood, others made candles, other made old fashioned sweets and the rest were going to buy 2 gifts.
Every single one of them were thrilled, that there was going to be the all day buffet for the emergency services and veterans and that their gifts will be going to them. Some of those invited to Toni's at first said no, but when they were asked why, they said they would have problems getting to Toni's. At the beginning Grandad said he would take them there and back, but when the veterans heard this, they said they would do this. So in the end all those invited to come to Toni's said yes.
On Christmas Day everyone got up early exchanged presents, had breakfast and were at Toni's by 9. Toni and his staff had been in the kitchen since 7.30 and the smells from the kitchen were just beautiful. A turkey had been slow cooked over night and was already on the buffet ready for it's first visitors. The buffet looked amazing and the veterans were ready, they had done an amazing job. Toni called everyone together just before they opened the doors. "Stella has made us all remember what the spirit of Christmas is all about, it is about sharing and compassion for others. Thank you Stella." Said Toni, with that everyone clapped. Grandad then stepped forward and asked Stella to bring the gift she had put on top of the barrel, which she did.
"Today, would have not happened if we had not had that chat 5 days ago, in your hands is a gift from all here, just to show you how much you are loved." Stella stood there, tears pouring down her face and opened her gift, it was a digital camera, it was the perfect gift for her, as he loved taking pictures. Toni then said " okay, it's 10, time to open the doors, Stella you need to close your eyes." Stella closed her eyes and wondered what was going on. When she opened them, two veterans were holding a huge pink ribbon across the open doors, outside were the guests and then Grandad produced a huge pair of scissors. "Cut the ribbon Stella," said Grandad, which she did, she then declared the restaurant open and everyone clapped.
As the guests arrived for Christmas lunch, they were taken to the seating area the veterans had laid out and given tea and coffee. Everyone loved the buffet, the staff in the restaurant and veterans had done an amazing job. Not only did the food look amazing, the buffet had been decorated too, everyone was talking about it. Soon the first of the emergency services turned up, some nurses and doctors who had just finished their night shift. Toni was given the honour of slicing the first turkey and handing a nurse a hot turkey and stuffing roll. Within an hour, the buffet was so busy that a number of the guests were helping out the veterans on the buffet.
Stella looked over and saw Grandad smiling, but with a tear in his eye, so she walked over to Grandad and said "Grandad are you sad?" Grandad hugged her and replied "no I am not sad Stella, do you see those two men being served their turkey rolls, they are veterans and this is the first time I have seen them outside their home in a long time." Stella went over to them with Grandad and they wished them a Merry Christmas. One of them asked if she was Stella, Stella said she was, with that he stood up and hugged and said "thank you for organising this, we would have been home alone today, this has given us the courage to come out, bless you."
At 12.30, Toni appeared out of the kitchen, tapped a glass and said "Ladies and Gentlemen lunch is served, can you please make your way to your table." Everyone sat down including Grandad, Stella and her family, it was the one thing that Toni insisted on and Grandad knew you could never argue with Toni. The veterans who had been working on the buffet, were also asked to sit down too and were replaced by Toni's staff who continued to man the buffet. What was amazing was that the emergency services who were relaxing after their buffet, joined in to serve those sitting down. It was a beautiful moment, something that nobody would forget.
Another thing that was really popular, was the barrel of presents for those using the buffet, a policeman opened his and it was a wooden box, he turned around and asked who had made it. A very old man sitting nearby said "I did." For the next 30 minutes they sat together, chatting away and soon it became the norm, someone would open a gift and ask who made it or who bought it and soon the room was full of chat and laughter. It also gave the guests a chance to thank the emergency services and veterans on a personal level.
After lunch everyone joined in and cleaned up and organised the restaurant for afternoon tea, some of the guests had a nap in the armchairs and sofa's, while others played cards, or just chatted. The tea Toni laid on was amazing and all the time the buffet was kept busy, the word had gone around and the emergency services were truly enjoying their hot turkey and stuffing rolls. As tea was going on, the old man who had made the wooden box, tapped the side of his tea cup and stood up. He asked for the staff in the kitchen to come out as well. "On behalf of everyone here, I want to thank every single one of you for what you have done today. The food has been amazing, but what you have done for us. is far more than feeding us. You gave us a reason to get up today, to leave the house, you have made us feel alive again and that we matter and that is a priceless gift. Thank you." With that everyone stood up and clapped and then everyone hugged one another. Grandad turned to Stella and said " You truly have bought the spirit of Christmas back to this community."
I hope you have enjoyed reading my story, in the run up to Christmas can I ask you to look around and reach out to one person. It might be your neighbour, or someone you know who lives alone, it might be a friend or a family member, reach out to them. If every single one of us reached out at Christmas to one person, what an amazing Christmas this would be. When you see someone from the emergency services, wish them a Merry Christmas and thank them for what they are doing. If you know a veteran, check on them, make sure they are not going to be alone over Christmas. No one should be alone, let alone at Christmas, so let's all reach out and make a difference to someone's life today.