Christmas in D.C. – The National Shrine’s Christmas Dinner Tradition

For over 40 years, the Basilica has served thousands in the community around the nation’s capital with a free Christmas dinner. Whether you are in need, alone, or simply craving a community on Christmas Day, staff and volunteers at the Basilica are ready to show you the love of Christ as we celebrate his birth. Today, Director of Special Events Valencia Camp gives us an inside look on how the tradition began, how it has changed, and the impact it has on the community.

Valencia Camp, pictured right, greets visitors at the Christmas dinner

How did the Basilica’s Christmas Dinner tradition originate, and how has it changed over the years?

The Christmas Dinner tradition began 43 years ago. Initially, it was a joint effort by the Basilica and the Catholic Charities of Washington, D.C., but it eventually became an exclusive Basilica event. The need for our program has been great, and the number of people we serve has grown over the years. While the program was originally intended to serve solely the poor and the needy, over the years we have broadened our focus to those who are “alone or in need.” This allows us to include everyone in the dinner program.

How many people do you serve, and how many people volunteer?

We serve more than 2,000 people, half in the dining room of Mary’s Shrine and half in the comfort of their own homes in the community. We couldn’t do this without our faithful corps of 350 volunteers who help with everything from set-up and table service to meal delivery, caroling, and clean-up.

Basilica volunteers pack up meals to deliver to shut-ins

What is included in the Christmas Dinner?

We serve turkey and stuffing with gravy, sweet potatoes, green beans, dinner rolls, cranberry sauce, apple pie, a soft drink, a gift bag containing an orange, a candy cane, chocolates, and a prayer card, and of course, Christmas cheer.

Why do you volunteer year after year?

This will be my fourteenth year serving in the Christmas Dinner program. I come back every year because I love the opportunity to give back. This is my Christmas gift to myself – the opportunity to give and to serve allows me to express my faith and to evangelize. If I can make just one person’s day a little bit brighter during the dinner, that is the most precious gift for me on this joyous day of the Christian year.

Who would you encourage to come to the Christmas Dinner this year?

I would encourage anyone who wants to be with a family to come because on Christmas Day, that is what we all are. Anyone who wants to be embraced, anyone who does not wish to be alone or feel alone  – please come. We have people who come to the Shrine for the Christmas Dinner every year because they have no other family. Whether you are a single person whose family is out of town, or a family who can’t afford a Christmas dinner or is simply in need of rest – the Basilica is here for you. All are welcome.

Who can volunteer to help with the Basilica’s Christmas Dinner?

Anyone! You do not need to be Catholic to be a volunteer – we have people of various religious backgrounds help us. Our volunteers have included families and individuals ranging from ages two to 92! We’ve had struggling families attend the dinner one year then volunteer to serve the next. All are welcome! That said, we are blessed that all our volunteer positions are already filled for this year.

The Basilica’s Christmas Dinner is a wonderful opportunity to give back to the community. It is not only the best Christmas present you will ever give, but also the best Christmas present you will ever receive.

Thank you for sharing about this heartwarming Christmas tradition at the National Shrine, Valencia! 

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