Woman rents pub and offers free Christmas dinner for 50 lonely hearts

A British pensioner will spend about $1,500 to buy Christmas dinner for 50 strangers. Here's some advice for inviting seniors over for the holidays. 

Melanie Stetson Freeman / The Christian Science Monitor
Christmas dinner: A baked ham, Swedish meatballs, smoked salmon, assorted fish, vegetables and cookies and traditional decorations. What will the The Lamb and Flag in England be serving?

An elderly widow in Devon, England, decided she was not going to give in to the holiday blues and chose instead to take the reindeer by the antlers and invite 50 strangers to celebrate together at a local pub – her treat.

The 86-year-old, who asked the London Telegraph to allow her to remain anonymous, spent just over $1,500 to rent a pub and some pre-holiday cheer for herself and 50 other lonely holiday hearts. Along with a full dinner, the generous pensioner has ordered two bottles of wine for each of the 12 tables for the meal on Dec. 23.

“The woman, 86, lost her husband 12 years ago and has been alone for Christmas in recent years due to a lack of close family and an inability to travel,” according The Telegraph. The unidentified woman, a former teacher, rented-out The Lamb and Flag in Ottery St Mary to provide a Christmas lunch for herself and up to 50 lonely strangers.”

She doesn’t have any siblings or children of her own, and said that this idea was "the spur of the moment."

I've been watching programmes on television about food banks and people by themselves being in trouble. Usually I send money to charities at Christmas, but rather than do that this year I thought about something local.

"I have been invited out with friends, otherwise I would have been on my own, like so many other people.

For the elderly, empty nesters and those who are grieving the loss of a loved one, the holidays can be more of a gantlet than a season of joy,

“I think it’s a wonderful idea there are many people who are lonely and would really, really, like to be with someone, but who may be wither alone at their stage of life or perhaps come from dysfunctional families,” says elder care expert Carol Bradley Bursack of the Minding Our Elders website in a phone interview.

Ms. Bursack says that many people can feel isolated and lonely during a time of year when they feel forced into good cheer.

After spending 20 years caring for elders in her life who were in various stages of emotional and physical difficulties, Bursack offers this advice: “The best gift we can give any of our elders is to let them tell stories,” she says and advises showing them pictures or familiar holiday objects to help jog good memories. “Never say ‘do you remember,’ but rather, let them lead the way.”

Bursack also says, "Take time to listen to their concerns. Pay attention. Don’t just leave an elder sitting alone at a family gathering.”

Follow their lead for making the day special but not overdoing it,” Bursack says. “For those with hearing loss the crowds can be too much, while for others it can all get tiring and overwhelming very quickly.”

As for the gift from the anonymous widow in England, Bursack says:  “In that case, it’s a truly wonderful thing totally in keeping with the spirit of the holiday because people will choose to be there and not have happiness thrust upon them.... I always tell people that the best gift you can give anyone for the holidays is the freedom to decide for themselves to be alone, or to join the merriment. If we take the right approach and not overwhelm or overbear, the chances of someone accepting that gift get much much higher.” 

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