The holiday dinner – with roast turkey and a rich assortment of side dishes and desserts – has become a tradition in Chestertown. Originally it was meant as a way to provide a holiday meal in a festive setting for those without nearby family members – such as “empty nest” seniors or Washington College students far from home. But it has grown to become a community-wide celebration with whole families as well as groups of friends and neighbors attending. It now regularly brings in residents from all over Kent County, and even a few “Western Shore” friends and relatives. The feast is open to all—not just members of the Methodist church–and it draws a very diverse crowd—mixed ages, classes, races, and ethnic groups. The Christmas dinner is free to all though donations are welcomed.
Yvonne Arrowood, who began the Christmas feast in 1984, has been the central figure for its entire run. The feast has been held every year except for a few years hiatus before being revived about a dozen years ago by former pastor Rick Vance. This year was a special dinner for Yvonne as she has announced that it will be her last as the chair though she intends to stay involved while handing over the leadership. Yvonne’s son, Bill Arrowood, spoke about the history of the feast and presented his mother with a bouquet of flowers in appreciation of her efforts over the years. He remembered that his job as a youngster at the first dinner in 1984 was to help run the elevator. Now he notes there is another young family member running the elevator. Life moves on.
Local restaurants and businesses as well as many individuals helped make the dinner possible by providing both food and dollars. Many of the menu items were donated by local establishments including The Fish Whistle at the Granary and Lapp Family Bakery. A host of volunteers put up the decorations, set the tables, finished the cooking, and served the dinner from the church’s large professional kitchen facilities. This year, according to Bill Arrowood, there were over 40 volunteers involved both on Christmas day and for several weeks and days before, making sure all would be ready when the Feast of Love began at 1 p.m. on December 25.
Music is always a part of the celebration, including singing carols and “Happy Birthday” to Jesus. This year, the Simmons Family trio and the Men of Janes Church provided music during and after the meal. Santa’s elves were on hand to serve dessert and to hand out presents. Gifts went to the youngest and oldest persons present as well as to those with holiday or Christmas-related names such as Faith, Hope, Luke, Gabriel, etc.
At the end, leftovers were distributed to the guests in “to-go” boxes to enjoy at home. Everyone had a very Merry Christmas!
By Peter Heck & Jane Jewell
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