PEPPERELL -- All month, the spirit of the holidays has been in the air throughout the Pepperell Senior Center, which has been playing host to a variety of Christmas activities, from tree lighting to designing centerpieces to the annual Christmas dinner.

The center was filled to capacity on Dec. 19, as 175 seniors, dressed in their finest, piled into the dining room for the center's annual Christmas dinner, sponsored by the Police Department.

"We reached building capacity. We actually had a wait list," center Director Marcia Zaniboni said. "We had to call people and tell them there was no more room."

The day leading up to the event, the Friends of the Pepperell Senior Center, like holiday elves, sneaked in to transform the room into a Christmas banquet hall, decking the walls from corner to corner with gently glowing Christmas lights, lining the tables in red linen and laying out Christmas-themed plates and cutlery, complete with the pictures of poinsettias.

As the guests poured into the room, a cheerful evergreen tree greeted them at the door. While patrons chatted and sang Christmas carols, the town employees were hard at work preparing a full Christmas dinner of salad, pot roast with gravy, green beans and potatoes, and serving them roundtable.

"There was an abundance of food; you couldn't eat enough," said Susan McCarthy, the center's activity coordinator.


Meanwhile, Police Sgt. Bill Greathead came out in full Santa Claus regalia to listen to last-minute Christmas wishes.

The annual event has been taking place for as long as Zaniboni, who has been with the center since 1998, can recall. Police Chief David Scott said the dinner used to be catered; however, due to budget cuts, catering was no longer a possibility.

But that wasn't going to put a stop to the holiday tradition. For the last three years, the Police Department and town employees have done everything themselves, donating their time to cook, serve and clean the kitchen. Funding was provided by the police patrolmen and supervisors unions.

In recent years, the dinner expanded beyond the police to other town departments; out of the myriad of town employees lending a hand at the event included Town Administrator John Moak, Conservation Agent Paula Terrasi, library Director Debra Spratt and, of course, nearly half of the Police Department.

"It's just something we've always done to keep that connection with the seniors," said Scott.

A few weeks before the dinner, the center held its first "Tree of Remembrance" lighting; each leaf on the tree was decorated by a senior in honor of a lost loved one. Nearly 50 people attended the lighting, which McCarthy hopes to make an annual event.

"It was beautiful; everybody loved it. It means so much to these people. These are their families and friends," she said. "A week later, people were still saying 'Thank you so much for doing that.'"

But if you've missed out so far, not to worry: There are still more festivities to come. Next on the list is the countdown to "Noon Year's Eve," an annual event held at midday on Dec. 31 to accommodate everyone's schedule. Then, on Jan. 4, the Senior Center is hosting its first cookie swap. The idea was suggested to McCarthy by a volunteer. Participants can bring in two dozen of their favorite home-baked cookies to share and trade. Recipes will also be shared.

"I think people really enjoy sharing recipes, but you don't see a lot of that anymore," said McCarthy. "I think it's an older tradition that I'd like to bring back."