Christmas was always a special time for Bob Magarian and his family, said Cindy Weisberg, his daughter and current director of financial and accounting operations for the OU College of Professional and Continuing Studies. As a professor in the pharmacy school at the OU Health Sciences Center in the mid-1980s, he routinely brought home the students who couldn’t make it back to their own families for the holidays, so they wouldn’t be alone on Christmas Day.
Over the last 35 years, Magarian and his family have expanded their tradition of inviting those who would otherwise be alone for the holidays by hosting the largest family dinner in the city.
The Christmas Day Community Dinner has become a holiday institution that feeds almost 2,000 people each year in Norman.
“Every year, that’s what we do on Christmas Day,” Weisberg said. “Our family knows that’s what we do on Christmas Day. We spend it there serving other people, and we have so much fun doing it.”
This year’s dinner will run from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Christmas Day at Norman High School, 911 W. Main St., and is free for anyone to attend. The event features a full Christmas dinner, along with live music, an area where kids can select the toys they want and a special visit from Santa himself.
“This event is for anyone who doesn’t want to be alone,” Weisberg said. “Anyone who wants to be in an atmosphere of being around a huge family on Christmas Day. It’s a great atmosphere where, for a short time, people can come and take their mind off their worries and be with other people to celebrate the holiday.
“It’s not just for people who are low-income or homeless. We get elderly people who have no family nearby, and students who can’t go home for Christmas. That’s why our tagline is ‘No one should be alone at Christmas.’”
There are also volunteers on hand, not only to make those in attendance feel special, but also to help prepare the food and deliver nearly 300 meals to individuals who are unable to make it to the dinner in person.
"This event is for anyone who doesn’t want to be alone. Anyone who wants to be in an atmosphere of being around a huge family on Christmas Day."
“It’s a huge project.” Weisberg said. “We have almost 200 volunteers who help. This past year, we turned the event into a nonprofit foundation in honor of my two siblings who have passed in the last three years. We have amazing support from the Norman community and businesses who give financially to help put this on, so we are very blessed in that way.
“OU cooks the turkeys for us. We purchase the turkeys, and they cook them for us and get them ready. We have a cook who we hire to manage everything. Most of the school’s kitchen is used for keeping things hot.”
Weisberg said preparations for the event start by the beginning of August and continue up to the moment that service begins on Christmas Day.
“It’s a lot of work,” she said. “My dad is there by 5 a.m. on Christmas Day. On Christmas Eve, we’ll be there working most of the day, getting prepared, slicing pies, getting the toys arranged in the gymnasium in order of age groups.
“Norman High School has been more than generous to allow us to use the facility because we have to have their kitchen to be able to do all of this. Between the principal, the mayor of Norman and other members of the community, they make it possible for us to do it every year.”
What started as a labor of love for the family was turned into a nonprofit foundation last year to ensure it continues to grow and make people feel special. Weisberg said the family is getting a crash course in how to manage all aspects of the event in preparation for the day when her 91-year-old father decides to pass the baton to the next generation.
“He is still very hands on,” she said. “He will not give it up until he is forced to! That’s why we’re getting all of his knowledge down on paper!”
Donations to the Christmas Day Community Dinner can be made until Christmas Eve. Items such as toys for kids of all ages, gloves and caps for children, teenagers and adults, as well as socks, scarves and adult grooming items can be taken to Morningstar Storage, 1606 24th Ave. SW in Norman. Cash donations can be made by calling Bob Magarian at (405) 364-3273. Toys can also be delivered to Norman High School on Christmas Eve morning from 9 a.m. to noon.
“We want to make Christmas a better experience for those who come to the dinner in whatever way we can,” Weisberg said. “We’re just in awe of how many lives we are able touch every year. It’s a wonderful experience. It reminds me of a Christmas movie because you have the holiday music going, people are dressed up, Santa is there, and the kids are having a great time.”
For more information about the Christmas Day Community Dinner, contact Bob Magarian at (405) 364-3273 or visit them on Facebook.