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Aisha Iqbal: Let’s pay tribute to all our festive angels

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So, that was Christmas – and we are all done in!

I hope everyone enjoyed the four ‘F’s of the festive season - family, food, friendship and fun.

I wrote last week about looking forward to my ‘big fat halal Christmas’ and I’m pleased to report it went amazingly.

The dinner for 20 turned into a dinner for 30, and so, I was even more grateful for my very own Christmas angels, the 
folk at Beeston’s St Mary’s Church Parish Hall, for stepping in to provide a last minute venue.

Our meal was opened with prayers by my uncle to bless our (very long) table, our hosts and everyone celebrating Christmas.

The tandoori turkey and alcohol-free trifle were the stars of the feast.

The church hall was buzzing with the sounds of Christmas carols, festive pop hits, and a host of Bollywood and Bhangra tunes.

The children were running around full of the joys of the season – and a little too much sugar.

I loved partaking in this thoroughly Christian festival in a marvellously multicultural way.

Spending time with people close to you, and new friends and old, is such a huge part of Christmas for us all. But it’s also about thinking about others, and this year’s festivities have brought out the best in people like never before.

It really struck me as I was sharing photos of my own Christmas celebrations on Facebook. My newsfeed was awash with pictures not of indulgence, but of selflessness.

I was absolutely humbled.

So many people in and around Leeds sacrificed family time by volunteering, and generally being fantastic human beings.

And what’s great, again, is that the spirit of festive generosity was flowing in Christian and non-Christian homes and places of worship in equal measure.

Like the festive song in Love Actually – which has become as much a Christmas tradition as turkey – Christmas is all 
around us. So, this column today is dedicated to all the people who went - and are going - out of their way to think of others.

A special shout out goes to Marvina Newton and her Angel of Youths charity, who served up dinner for 200-plus people who would otherwise have been alone and isolated, at the Corn Exchange. Read all about their efforts, and those of the Lemn Sissay Foundation, on the page opposite.

Then, there were the people at Baab ul Ilm mosque in Moortown, who opened their doors for a special Christmas gathering.

Over at the St Anne’s Resource Centre, meanwhile, the outpouring of cross-cultural generosity continues today as volunteers from the Kalgidhar Gurudwara Sikh Temple in Leeds gather to provide food, warm clothing and toiletries for the homeless.

And a special mention to Pudsey’s Aagrah Midpoint restaurant, which teamed up with the Just Give charity to host a turkey and trimmings dinner with a twist for more than 100 homeless people, complete with seasonal entertainment from local church choirs . The charity’s Sajed Mahmood called it “a real celebration of Christmas for those who didn’t have much to look forward to this year.”

These are just some examples of the wonderful, generous spirit of Leeds people, which shines even brighter at this time of year.

Festive angels of Leeds - we salute you all.