BLOCKHOUSE, N.S. — A grandmother in Nova Scotia has invited nine strangers to her dinner table this Christmas for a festive get together for those who can't spend the holidays with their families.
Patty McGill worried that most of her homemade Yuletide delicacies would go to waste this season. Her children and grandchildren are in Quebec 1,300 kilometres away as she looks after her farm in the Lunenburg area on Nova Scotia's South Shore.
On a whim, McGill decided to share her turkey dinner with six people she had never met in person. A friend posted an invitation on social media and the guest list soon grew as word spread about her gathering for those without a place to go for the holidays.
"They're really interesting people, every single one of them," said McGill. "It's like a network was created from this idea ... It's really to break down barriers about who we are."
It looks to be a diverse crowd, said McGill, including a falconer from British Columbia, a retired medical writer who worked in the United States, a cancer survivor and the mother of an infant who recently split with a man who she moved to the province to be with.
McGill runs a therapeutic horseback riding program in Blockhouse for children with disabilities. With no one around to feed but animals, the 63-year-old matriarch is excited to share her family's famed "McGill stuffing" and sample other guests' holiday customs, like a Jewish university student who plans to bring a menorah.
She joked that even her livestock will share in the festivities with kids unwrapping gifts on behalf of hoofed and pawed guests.
Ingredients for the meal will be supplied by a local grocer and McGill has been receiving cheques from people who have been touched by her generous holiday spirit.
Others are following McGill's example by reviewing their guest lists to see if anyone has been overlooked or perhaps crossed off too hastily. McGill said people have contacted her saying they've invited estranged familiy members to their celebrations as an opportunity to reconnect over the holidays.
"That's what this is about for me. To be with people who want to be with people," said McGill. "I can't be with the people that I want to be with ... but there's no denying me being with people."
McGill has only interacted with her guests on the phone or by e-mail, mostly to co-ordinate travel arrangements. On the day of the feast, however, McGill is asking that cellphones be left in a basket at the door, so people can engage with each other rather than their screens.
"It wasn't that long ago that it didn't matter who came down the road past your house, you were responsible for making sure that traveller was comfortable and fed," said McGill. "Now, people live in whole communities where they don't even know who their neighbours that live around them. It's not the way we're meant to be."
She said she hopes the gathering will mark the start of a "new tradition" that embodies what the holidays are truly about — being together, loving thy neighbour and eating yule logs until you're more stuffed than the turkey.
"It's a joy for me to do all this stuff," said McGill. "Everybody's family is bigger than they think."