Create holiday traditions that build community spirit and strengthen your neighborhood.
Make friends and influence your property values by creating neighborhood traditions.
The winter holidays provide the perfect excuse to march up to your neighbors’ doors and invite them to a holiday event that brings neighbors together and builds strong community bonds.
Unity builds community
There are smart reasons to start a holiday neighborhood tradition that fosters good relationships with your neighbors. Higher property values, strong schools, and lower crime rates are tangible benefits of neighbors’ connecting with their fellow residents and their neighborhood, according to studies by Dennis Rosenbaum, director of the Center for Research in Law and Justice at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
There are also intangible benefits. “People feel better about themselves when their house becomes a home and their street becomes a neighborhood,” says Peggy Allen, author of Block Parties and Poker Nights: Recipes and Ideas for Getting and Staying Connected With Your Neighbors. “When you have some connection with the people whose yard you share and whose cars get parked next to yours on the street, you know they’re looking out for you.”
Ideas for holiday events
Organizing an event is easier than you think. “The key is to not jam an agenda down people’s throats,” says Allen. “Float your idea, make it as flexible as possible, and don’t be the only one who wants to do it.” Here are seven event ideas from your neighbors across the country:
1. Sing songs. “We’ve been caroling every year since 1967, and we missed only one winter because it was below freezing,” says Marge Othrow of the Clinton Hill neighborhood in Brooklyn, N.Y.
A few residents scout the route by identifying streets heavy with holiday decorations under the theory that those residents will be receptive to carolers. A community group donates the money to print flyers, and volunteers post the flyers and provide refreshments. “A lot of residents are expecting us,” says Othrow. “Sometimes we’re invited in, and some people even plan their parties so we’re the entertainment.”
2. Party 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 first emergency responders who’ve made a difference in the city’s Lower Garden District neighborhood.
“We want to thank our first responders,” says Matt Ryan, CSA president, “but the end result is that we’re building our community.” The CSA spends about $1,000 for the food and the several-hundred-dollar cash awards for the first responders.
3. Swap food. With a cookie or dessert exchange, no single neighbor bears the burden of providing food for the entire neighborhood. “We have an open house,” says Audra Krell of Scottsdale, Ariz., “and people bring one tray of any kind of dessert.” Krell relies on Evites and Facebook to spread the word, so her overall time managing the event is under 10 hours.
4. Organize a search party. Families compete in a neighborhood-wide scavenger hunt in Maineville, Ohio. “I come up with a list of holiday items, like tinsel and candy canes, and give everybody a half hour to collect them,” says Tracie Watkins. “The family that comes back first or has found the most items in that time gets a $50 gift card. Last year we had 15 to 20 families.”
5. Pay it forward.
The holidays are a great time to tap into feelings of goodwill toward others. Krell pairs her dessert exchange with a request for partygoers to bring toys to donate to needy children through Childhelp USA
In Logan, Utah, Jenny Johnson and 50-60 of her neighbors forego giving gifts and goodies to each other, instead purchasing Christmas gifts, food, and personal hygiene items for three to four needy families through the Sub for Santa
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. “We have a progressive holiday party at three houses on the Sunday before Christmas,” says Margee Herring of Wilmington, N.C. Each homeowner foots the food bill for about 100 guests, but you can share the cost by asking neighbors to sign up for a potluck dish. To create a twist, announce a different theme each year or ask homeowners to host the cuisine of a different country.
7. Light it up. Many neighborhoods come together to line their streets with candles on Christmas Eve. “We use plastic milk or water jugs,” says Herring. Costs include purchasing milk or water throughout the year and about $10 worth of 12-hour votive candles. Setup and removal takes 30-45 minutes. An alternative to luminaries is a holiday lighting contest in which neighbors vote on the home with the best holiday display.