updated 11/16/2012 AT 7:55 PM ET
•originally published 11/22/2012 AT 1:00 PM ET
When the turkey, potatoes and stuffing get passed around at Scott Macaulay’s Thanksgiving dinner table, there’s really no telling whether he’ll know his fellow diners.
For 27 years, Macaulay, 51, has cooked and served Thanksgiving to groups of strangers in Melrose, Mass., because, “I don’t think anyone should spend Thanksgiving alone,” he tells PEOPLE.
His annual dinner came to be when his parents got a divorce in September of 1985 and then began arguing about where he would spend Thanksgiving. When Macaulay realized spending the day with either one or splitting it up wasn’t going to work, he resigned himself to attending neither celebration. But he didn’t want to eat alone on one of his favorite holidays, either.
“So, I put an ad in the local paper that I would cook dinner for up to 12 people,” he says. “And it went pretty well. Thanksgiving is not a holiday about presents or fireworks, it is about giving thanks for the blessings in your life and you just can’t do that by yourself. It isn’t as much about the food as it is about being together.”
Through the years, his annual dinners have grown in number – and in the connections he’s made with the people at the table. Last year, 89 people were served dinner by Macaulay, who is single and buys and cooks the majority of the meal. He now holds the feast at the First Baptist Church in Melrose, where he makes the atmosphere more “homey” by bringing in his own rocking chairs, a faux fireplace and serving appetizers so people can visit together.
“I don’t want it to look like an institution,” he says. “I make it look like a home as much as possible, with cloth tablecloths and napkins and plastic silverware that looks real.”
He recalls diners through the years: A woman who comes because her kids live out of state and it is too far to travel, a man whose wife has Alzheimer’s, a young woman whose father was in the hospital nearby (Macaulay was recently invited to her wedding and he attended), as well as those who are recently widowed or divorced or who just find themselves with nowhere to go on the day.
“It’s nice for us to share our blessings together and enjoy the day,” says Macaulay, who also delivers meals to local police who have to work on the holiday.
Macaulay doesn’t own a computer (or a television), so he relies on word of mouth and his annual notice in the paper to get the word out to people in the community. His reservation numbers before the holiday were at 32 for this year, but he expects and plans for more, getting up at 4 a.m. to put four turkeys into the ovens at the church and then start peeling and cooking the potatoes.
“I don’t like to eat alone,” Macaulay says, simply. “And I enjoy getting to have Thanksgiving with other people who want to enjoy being together too.”
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