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Four Years at the Mount

Freshman year

Christmas at Home

Angela Tongohan
Class of 2020

(12/2016) My best Christmas was spent with a man I barely knew.

In fact, until this day, I still do not know his name. I met him when I was in the eighth grade, when my church decided to host an event called Feeding for the Homeless. Members of our community were to come in on Christmas Eve, set up cots and prepare food for individuals experiencing homelessness, seeking shelter from the cold. My mother, who never was one who enjoyed the formalities of Christmas dinners, decided it would be a fulfilling way for us to spend our Christmas.

Of course, being the angst-y adolescent that I was, I grumbled and complained about not having a traditional Christmas dinner like everyone else. When my grumbling didnít subside after she plainly ignored me for a good few minutes, my mother curtly spun around and said to me, "Maybe itís about time you stop thinking of only yourself."

To that I responded with a loud huff and proceeded to sit down in the corner of the church hall where I planned to stay the rest of the night.

My mother did not care much about that. In fact, I believe she preferred that I stay out of the way while they were preparing. There was so much food! There was ham and turkey and steak, pudding and cupcakes and custard, pasta and bread and potatoes! I was full just watching them cook. They set out five rectangular tables and placed them end-to-end to form an incredibly long dining table, which they then covered with multiple stark-white tablecloths.

A man arrived carrying a portable piano, and after a few minutes of setting up, the hall was filled with the jolly sounds of Christmas music.

He was in the middle of Jingle Bells when the first of the anticipated guests arrived. Most of the men and women wore worn clothes, usually washed out and without color. Their hands were rough and cold and their jackets not nearly thick enough to protect them from the freezing snow outside. Many of the men had hair that grew far past their eyes and beards that hung low to the bottoms of their necks. Many had shoes with wide holes or with the soles falling off.

I frowned. I had never interacted with homeless people before. They all bumbled in, confused and obviously hungry. The members of my community, including my mother, led them in the direction of the food. I watched as they eagerly took spoonfuls of this or that until their plates were filled.

My mother caught my eye and waved me over. I shook my head. I admit, I was a bit of a brat. By the time everyone who arrived had helped themselves, they sat down at the tables. They were all rather wary of each other, sitting a few seats apart from the next person. I watched as they ate and talked to no one. I shrugged to myself and prepared to wait until it was time to go home when my mother grabbed my hand and dragged me to the food table.

"I need your help, Angela," she said to me. I groaned. The minute she let go of my hand, I immediately made my way back to my corner. She grabbed my hand again, "Angela, Iím serious!"

"What do you need?" I asked as disinterestedly as possible.

She nodded her head to someone behind me.

"I need you to help that man. He doesnít want to get food."

"Mom," I grumbled, "I canít make him get food."

"I think he doesnít know that this food is for him too," said my mother, "He doesnít speak English, Angela."

I looked up at the man who stood silently by the doorway. He was looking hungrily at the people at the table.

"He speaks Spanish. But I donít know how to communicate with him. Didnít you take Spanish in school?"

"Momó" I began.

"Please, Angela. Just invite him over to eat."

Reluctantly, and after a great many groans, I made my way over to the man.

"Hola," I said, forcing a smile. My Spanish wasnít the best.

"Hola," he said back.

"Quieres comer?"

His eyes lit up, "SŪ, sŪ," he said.

I led him to the table.

"Pan?" I asked pointing to the bread, "Pollo? Todo puedeÖ" I internally facepalmed. However, the man was too busy getting food to notice my poor Spanish. After he finished preparing his plate, he began to walk to the table.

I sighed a breath of relief. Just as I was about to head back to my corner, he turned around and asked, "Y tu?"

I was confused. Me?

"Yes, she will eat with you," my mother butt in, quickly preparing a plate and shoving it into my hands.

I shuffled my way to the man. He chose a relatively empty spot at the table and held a chair for me until I sat down.

He took a few bites before turning to me and asking me questions. He asked my age, what grade of school I was in, and what I wanted to be when I grew up. It was pretty casual talk, and I tried as hard as I could to understand what he was saying to me. From the bits and pieces, I did understand, I learned that he had a family, but that he lost his job. He had a wife and daughter, who was a little younger than me, but they had moved away a few years ago.

Despite not knowing anybody, the man seemed particularly jolly. His face often lit up when he told me stories, and when he talked he waved his hands around while simultaneously taking in spoonfuls of food. The members of my community had also scattered about the table, starting conversations with those who seemed lonely. The music started up again as well.

By the time everyone had finished eating, my mother stood up and pleasantly asked the man I was talking with to dance. And he did. Soon enough a good number of my community were dancing with the guests. By that time, I started to see them differently. I no longer saw the ratty torn up clothes. Talking to the man made me realize that there was not much different between us. We were both human. He was just down on his luck.

We all have different stories, and it was wrong to judge a person because of their status or their appearance. I may not have realized it at the time, but this was the beginning of my understanding. This was where I realized that not everybody has an easy journey.

Christmas is a time where we value the company of our family and friends, but there are people who have nobody. During this season of joy and cheer, I urge the spread of love and acceptance as well. Though we may not understand everybody else, we lose nothing to hear their story.

I always wondered what would have happened if I did not talk to the man by the door; if I had refused to try and help. Every Christmas, we now spend our time in the church hall, celebrating Christmas with those who have no one else to celebrate with.

Read other articles by Angela Tongohan