A life-altering Christmas: I delivered meals on my bicycle – and discovered companionship beyond every doorstep.

For me, Christmas has always been associated with debt, guilt, and displaying emotions when required. But then the pandemic happened, and I had to get into the spirit.

I’ve never really been enthusiastic about Christmas. Growing up in south London with a single mother and siblings, I didn’t consider myself poor because everyone around me was in the same situation. In a pre-digital era, the luxuries showcased on TV were nothing more than fantasies, detached from my reality, much like Grizzly Adams or Lee Majors.

Christmas in our household was modest: a meal of rice, peas, lamb, and plantain, and lounging around watching TV. Presents were obligatory, and by the time I turned 13, they ceased to exist. I learned early on that there were many amazing things in the world, but I was unlikely to possess much of it. My feelings about Christmas were similar to how I currently feel about Valentine’s Day. It meant being obligated, burdened with debt, overwhelmed with guilt, and forced to display emotions on demand.

Now, I have a partner who is extremely passionate about Christmas – but we reached a compromise by going away during the holiday season. The pandemic burst that bubble of privilege, and in 2021, we found ourselves facing a rare Christmas in the UK. So we made the decision to volunteer for Waste Not Want Not Battersea (WNWNB), a charity founded by my friend Hadas Hagos. The organization collects leftover produce from New Covent Garden Market and distributes it to the local community to prevent waste.

Hadas mentioned that she needed volunteers for Christmas Day, and it was an easy decision for us, especially when I told my partner that we could wear elf hats. We arrived at Providence House, near Clapham Junction, where the volunteering was taking place and were immediately put to work.

Much of the food was already packaged, and we started sorting the meals, setting up the stand, and preparing to spread some Christmas cheer. Initially, progress was slow. People seemed skeptical about accepting free food, and I think my partner’s overly enthusiastic elf persona was causing concern. However, they gradually warmed up to us, and we spent an enjoyable afternoon singing carols and encouraging passersby to take our produce.

Then came the time to deliver meals to those who couldn’t come to the center or had pre-requested meals. This was the moment that altered my perspective. I thought cycling around to drop off meals would be similar to being a Deliveroo driver, but it turned out to be so much more.

The first door I knocked on was opened by a woman in her thirties. She had children clinging to her every limb and appeared utterly exhausted. I introduced myself as a representative of WNWNB and handed her the prepared meals. Though it was probably only enough food for a couple of days, her reaction made me feel like I was presenting her with gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Her face lit up, and I couldn’t determine if it was relief, gratitude, or something else. The kids were overjoyed with the small packs of pens, books, and treats that Hadas had included. I barely managed to pass the gifts to the mother before her children spirited them away.

I received similar responses during my subsequent deliveries. In some cases, particularly with the elderly or those who were alone, I entered their homes and engaged in brief conversations before leaving. Many felt lonely. I encountered people who didn’t want to reveal how happy they were to have another adult to connect with or how much they needed the charity.

As a local politician, I frequently knock on doors and engage in conversations with people, but there was something deeper about those exchanges on Christmas Day. It wasn’t quite an Ebenezer Scrooge moment, but by the end of my day at WNWNB, I was a slightly different person compared to when I began. I realized that my eagerness to dismiss the materialistic, performative, and obligatory aspects of Christmas had caused me to overlook the connectedness, compassion, and contemplative side as well.

I still won’t succumb to excessive gift-buying, but I will strive to wholeheartedly embrace the opportunities that Christmas offers us each year. For too many people, Christmas is just another day – a day filled with coldness, hunger, and loneliness. I am genuinely looking forward to Christmas this year. I will spend time with my family, my in-laws, and my friends, and I will revel in how fortunate I am to have all of them.

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