The Westbury community celebrated Christmas on Monday with a feast and a bounty of gifts at an annual luncheon that has become a holiday tradition for many attendees.
The Westbury United Methodist Church hosted its 12th annual Christmas Day Community Luncheon Celebration, in partnership with the Westbury-based Islamic Center of Long Island, in an interfaith act of service.
More than 200 residents indulged in festive dishes such as three-day smoked turkey and candied yams, sang Christmas carols, and then the children descended on the presents, which came in every size, shape and color.
Jacqueline Ramirez, 8, of Westbury, selected a fuzzy brown teddy bear that nearly reached her size, remarking that she liked how cozy it was.
“The best part about Christmas is opening presents and spending time with family,” Jacqueline said.
Other eager children came with strategies, eyeing the presents hours in advance and making a list. Cristian Gonzales, 10, of Westbury, said he had studied the gifts before making his selection of a wooden foosball table.
Presents aside, the atmosphere was full of Christmas cheer, with the tinny tones of Alvin and the Chipmunks playing in the background, holiday desserts loaded on the tables, and many attendees sporting holiday sweaters.
The Rev. Sheila M. Beckford of the Methodist church said the luncheon was a “wonderful way to build community” and had become a Christmas tradition for many parishioners.
“It’s just an expression of love on both ends,” Beckford said. “For us, Christmas is not about just the people we know. It’s about the stranger, it’s about our neighbors and expressing love through any means necessary and possible.”
Dozens of members of both congregations volunteered at the event, helping serve food and orchestrate the gift giving.
Habeeb Ahmed, the president-elect of the Islamic Center, said the luncheon was about loving your neighbors, a shared practice across religions.
“We are not good Muslims if we go to bed with a full stomach and your neighbor goes home hungry,” he said.
Marjorie Moon, a church parishioner and Westbury resident who has volunteered at the luncheon for more than a decade, said it was wonderful to be able to help make Christmas special for the attendees.
“We want them to be happy,” Moon, 71, said. “I remember how exciting it was to get up on Christmas morning and open presents. They [the children] come with their eyes so bright with anticipation.”