Very briefly, an almsgiving is a Buddhist religious ceremony in which alms (or donations) are offered to the poor (in this case, the monks, who have taken an oath of poverty), I have written more about it previously, here and here.
I usually budget a certain amount for the event, divide that total amount by 12 and that becomes the monthly amount I set aside during the year towards the event. I do the same for the rosary/prayer gathering dinner I host in October and Christmas/New Year gifts. This way, the money for the event is evenly distributed across the year and there is no need to find the money for a large expense in any given month.
I know I have said this before, but I rely on my rather detailed checklists and schedules when it comes to preparing for an event. Each year, I revise and update previous lists and schedules as dates, etc. change. This year, I also need to be mindful of the fact that my stamina has changed and I tire more quickly (and take longer to recover). This year, the almsgiving will be held on Sunday, December 4. As of today, I have just under two weeks to prepare for it.
2016 Almsgiving Checklist & Schedule:
Do in early November:
- Set date/invite monks/invite participants - DONE
- Bank to withdraw money saved for the event - DONE
- Decide on donations/get them ready - DONE (Monetary donations put into envelopes and kept near the altar so there's no last minute rushing around looking for them!)
- Make a tentative menu /check supplies/make a grocery list - DONE
- Check supplies (non-grocery - incense sticks, paper goods, etc.); make shopping list - DONE
- Check table linen, chair covers, etc., wash if needed, iron, etc. - DONE
- Shop for non-perishables - DONE
Week 1 (November 20- 27):
- Start cleaning the house (Dust/vacuum/tidy living room, dining area, family room, kitchen, bathrooms, bedrooms) - STARTED
- Buy chocolates
- Take down dishes used only for almsgiving and wash them (daughter to help when she comes down for Thanksgiving)
Week 2 (November 28-December 4):
- Confirm date with monks
- Finalize menu/grocery shopping list
- Remind invitees; share menu/assign dishes
- Rearrange furniture - sofas, coffee tables, tall round side table (for
reliquary), trolley (for plates of offerings), remove blue & white
vases near fireplace (so I can set the small sofa in front of the
Friday, December 2:
- Grocery shop for perishables
- Buy flowers
- Take down dishes used only for almsgiving and wash them (if not done earlier)
- Take out serving dishes, basins used for washing hands, jugs used for pouring the water; serving spoons, etc.
- Final cleaning - dust, vacuum, etc.
- Put cashews to soak
Saturday, December 3:
- Clean bathrooms/set out guest towels, etc.
- Set out items needed for the transfer of merit: teapot, cup, and water basin; fill teapot with water
- Take out chair covers, table cloths, napkins, etc.; cover chairs, tables
- Candles/incense sticks & holder; lighter/matches
- New bottle of water for blessing; bowl to catch drips when blessed water is poured out
- Set out items for washing hands: fresh cake of soap, hand towels, jugs & basins
- COOK! Cashews, garbanzo beans, lentils, hard boil eggs, fry lentil wagers (pappadum)
- Pick up friend
- Clean kitchen
- Take out plates, bowls, etc. for guests
- Take out frozen sweets and keep to thaw
Sunday, December 4 (Day of Almsgiving):
- Arrange flowers in vases
- Cut up fruits and arrange in saucers (approx. 5 types of fruits per saucer); cover
- Arrange a variety of sweets in saucers (approx. 5 types per saucer); cover
- Dish out yogurt into bowls; cover
- Pour palm treacle into sauce boat (to be served over yogurt)
- Make pudding, dish out into bowls, cover
- Cook rice (2 types - white and red)
- Make salad (hard boiled egg halves, sliced tomato, cucumber, red onions, green chillies)
- Warm up curries; dish out into smaller serving dishes for serving to
monks; bigger serving dishes for guests (keep bigger dishes in oven to
- Serve up offerings to the Buddha and offerings for the Order of Monks
- Boil water for those monks who prefer hot water
- Pour water and juice into glasses
- Spot clean bathrooms
- Fill hand washing bowls and jugs with warm water
10:30 a.m. - Everything should be done and ready; guests arrive and
their contributions added to offerings to the Buddha and the Order of
11:00 a.m. - Monks arrive; Offerings to Buddha, Order of Monks, etc. take place and service begins with devotions being recited.
11:30 a.m. - Lunch is served to the monks (they need to finish eating by 12 noon).
12:00 noon - Monks finish their lunch, plates are cleared, a sermon is
said, blessings are chanted, merit gained from almsgiving is transferred
to departed loved ones, donations are presented to the monks.
1:00 p.m. - the monks leave, the religious ceremonies are concluded, lunch is served to all those who participated.
Followed by washing up, cleaning, and putting things away until the
next time! My family and friends usually help me with the washing up, putting away the food, and putting the furniture back in place. This year, my biggest helper, my daughter, won't be here, so things might take me a bit longer to do.
I might cook the cashews, garbanzo beans and lentils at the end of this week and freeze them, if I can find room in my freezer! I'll see how it goes. The freezer is rather full, at this time.
2016 Almsgiving Menu:
- Rice (red rice and white basmati rice)
- Cashew curry
- Spicy garbanzo beans
- Lentil curry (dhal)
- Pumpkin curry
- Green beans curry
- Shredded leafy greens cooked with grated coconut (mallung)
- Salad of hard boiled egg halves, sliced tomato, cucumber, red onion, green chillies
- Fried lentil wafers (pappadum)- Tomato chutney
- Sweetmeats (candies) - an assortment
- Fresh fruits - an assortment (grapes, kiwi, papaya, strawberries or blackberries, tangerines, apples, etc.)
- Yogurt and treacle
One of my friends has offered to cook the pumpkin curry, green beans and the leafy greens for me. I am counting on another friend to come and help me make the salad, assemble the saucers of fruit, etc. A cousin said she'll try to come over on Friday morning to help me clean, etc. Hopefully, all will be able to help out. I plan to take Thursday (December 1) and Friday (December 2) off from work, so I'll have more time to get things done.