The Moment I Discovered The True Meaning Of Christmas

A chance encounter in a soup kitchen taught me why it’s the most wonderful time of the year

Matt Lillywhite
Human Parts
Published in
5 min readDec 19, 2023

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Image licensed via IStockPhoto

I’m bundled up to my neck in warm clothes, but I can still feel the cold seeping through my gloves. Clutching my father’s hand, he says we’re spending Christmas Eve at the neighborhood community center. The bustling sound of people greeting each other fills the air as we navigate the crowd. My father leads me towards the kitchen, where we are about to serve meals to those less fortunate.

“Here you go,” he says. “It’ll make you look more festive!”

My father puts a Santa hat on my head and tells me to wear a beaming smile. Looking out into the community center’s main hall, I notice a long line of people patiently waiting, many of whom appear exhausted and dressed in tattered clothes. However, despite their hardships, their faces light up with joy when we hand them steaming-hot food.

“Why are we doing this?” I whisper, careful to keep my voice low.

“We’re learning about the spirit of Christmas,” my father replies. “It’s a time for giving, and not just when you receive presents from mom and dad.”

Thousands of children like you don’t have a home,” my father continues. “But it’s not their fault. Little kids aren’t able to open their presents, like you will, on Christmas morning. So this is our way of helping people.”

It’s one thing to know that, factually. It’s quite another to serve warm meals to a child no older than myself and wonder if he’ll have a roof over his head and a meal on the table tomorrow morning.

I forgot to ask for his name. But I’ll always remember the smile on the little boy’s face when I passed him a plate of delicious food. It was as if all his troubles had melted away, and he was completely lost in the moment, getting ready to savor every bite.

“I can’t wait to do this again,” I say, my voice trembling with emotion.

My father looks at me and doesn’t speak. However, the pride in his eyes says more than words ever could. And, for the first time in my life, I feel like I understand the true meaning of Christmas.

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Matt Lillywhite
Human Parts

Writing is a superpower. London based. But you can probably find me in all four corners of the world.