Com­mu­nity hol­i­day din­ners show­case Colorado’s di­ver­sity

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By John In­gold John In­gold: 303-954-1068, jin­gold@den­ver­post.com or twit­ter.com/johningold

The first recorded Christ­mas din­ner in Colorado wasn’t big on side dishes.

The menu for that feast — held at a camp north of Den­ver in 1858 and doc­u­mented by a news­pa­per cor­re­spon­dent — con­tained 31 cuts of meat or fish and 13 kinds of al­co­hol but only a mea­ger of­fer­ing of rice, beans, boiled or baked pota­toes and stewed pump­kin.

But what that meal started con­tin­ues to­day as a tra­di­tion of come-one-and-all Christ­mas din­ners across the state, a tra­di­tion that show­cases the state’s di­ver­sity. In cities and towns, free Christ­mas Day din­ners are held in city halls and county fair­grounds, restau­rants and com­mu­nity cen­ters.

In Cedaredge, in west­ern Colorado, the an­nual Christ­mas din­ner is held in a ren­o­vated fruit-pack­ing shed. In Pueblo this year, the an­nual din­ner — at­tended for decades by a man known as “One Shoe” — will be held in an arts cen­ter.

The menus, too, re­flect the state’s cul­tural breadth.

In Del Norte, on the west side of the San Luis Val­ley, one of the vol­un­teers this year will make a big pot of green chile to add to the feast. Lori Abrams said she started the din­ner in Del Norte af­ter see­ing that many of her neigh­bors had no one to cel­e­brate the hol­i­day with. This year, she is hop­ing to serve 300 meals, all of them do­nated.

“I just tell peo­ple that any­thing you bring is some­thing,” she said. “I don’t care if it’s a bowl of candy. It’s just the thought that you did some­thing. … I just want peo­ple to know that there’s al­ways some­body who is go­ing to look out for them.”

And, some­times, the meals re­veal a com­mu­nity’s changes.

For more than 40 years, the Mathers fam­ily has hosted a com­mu­nity Christ­mas din­ner at their bar in Craig. Past years, when Craig’s pop­u­la­tion boomed, the din­ner drew more than 300 peo­ple. Now, with the re­gion’s econ­omy suf­fer­ing and the city’s pop­u­la­tion shrink­ing, only about 100 peo­ple are ex­pected.

But Mike Mathers said his fam­ily will keep host­ing the din­ner no mat­ter what.

“Just be­cause,” he said, “we’re a bar and you have some lost souls and they don’t have any place to go.”

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