Anyone who knows me well knows that I love to “pay it forward” and surprise my friends and colleagues with random acts of kindness. Nearly every single day, I get asked by people how they can do the same. Here are seven ideas that will not only boost your holiday spirit, but improve your community, too.
1. Sing songs
Home owners in the Clinton Hill neighborhood near Brooklyn, N.Y., have been caroling together since 1967. They only missed the event once for a pretty good excuse: It was below freezing.
Their advice for a successful neighborhood holiday event? Identify neighborhood streets heavy with holiday decorations. Festive residents will likely be most receptive to carolers. Ask volunteers to print song lyric sheets, post fliers announcing the event in advance, and bring a thermos or two of hot cocoa.
Residents have come to look forward to the neighborhood holiday song fest. “Sometimes we’re invited in, and some people even plan their parties so we’re the entertainment,” says resident Marge Othrow.
2. Holiday parties with a purpose
New Orleans’ historic Strachan House is the site of the Coliseum Square Association’s annual Christmas party, where the highlight is an award ceremony honoring emergency first responders who make a difference in the city’s Lower Garden District neighborhood.
The CSA spends about $1,000 for the food and the several-hundred-dollar cash awards for the first responders, says CSA President Matt Ryan. The holiday event not only thanks first responders, but builds neighborhood spirit, he says.
3. Swap holiday food
With a holiday cookie or dessert exchange, no single neighbor bears the burden of providing food for the entire neighborhood. Audra Krell of Scottsdale, Ariz., uses Evite and Facebook to manage her annual holiday dessert exchange where friends each bring one tray of any kind of dessert.
Managing the neighborhood event takes Krell less than 10 hours, but the good feelings the event generates last all year long.
4. Organize a search party
Families compete in a neighborhood-wide holiday scavenger hunt in Maineville, Ohio. Tracie Watkins, who runs this fun event, comes up with a list of holiday items, like tinsel and candy canes, and gives everybody a half hour to collect them.
The family that comes back first with everything or has found the most items when the game ends, gets a $50 gift card. She’s had as many as 15 to 20 neighborhood families join in the fun.
5. Share holiday giving
In Logan, Utah, Jenny Johnson and 50 to 60 of her neighbors forgo giving holiday gifts and goodies to each other, instead purchasing gifts, food, and personal hygiene items for three to four needy families through the Sub for Santa program. The average family’s financial contribution runs about $30, and the families get together at a neighborhood party to wrap the gifts they’ve purchased.
6. Feed your friendly neighbors
Hold a progressive holiday dinner party at neighbors’ houses. On the Sunday before Christmas, Margee Herring of Wilmington, N.C., and her neighbors eat their way through three host homes. Each home owner foots the food bill for about 100 guests, but you can share the cost by asking neighbors to sign up for a potluck dish.
Create a twist: Announce a different theme each year, or ask home owners to prepare the holiday cuisine of a different country.
7. Light up the holiday
Many neighborhoods come together to line their streets with candles on Christmas Eve. And this effort doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive. Save milk and water jugs throughout the year, and put 12-hour votive candles inside the jugs.
Setup and removal take 30 to 45 minutes. An alternative to luminaries is a neighborhood holiday lighting contest in which neighbors vote on the home with the best holiday display.