Help Your Community Have a Bright Christmas
I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round, as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.
How active are you at Christmas?
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Life is richer and more fun when a person balances their solitary and family time with some type of involvement in a community. This is never more true than during the Christmas holidays, when lights are bright and enticement fills the air. How you choose and shape your own "community" is up to you - your likes and dislikes, your affinities for different activities and types of people.
Christmas Holiday Fun
Within the standard types of communities (e.g. neighborhood, town) there are never-ending possibilities for fun during the holidays, especially if you like to organize. Consider some of the ideas below and add your own in the comments.
If you don't like to organize, be aware that your support, itself, helps to make the season brighter for others. What would a party be if no one came? How much could a church give to a charity, if no one showed up to help? To get a feel for how involved you are (or aren't) in the world outside of yourself, take the quiz on the right and then read on.
Different Types of Community
For most people there are four main possibilities for forming community outside of family: Friends, your neighborhood, the workplace, and the town in which you live, including church.
You could use any of these as a starting point to launch yourself into another. You could go with friends to a performance of the Nutcracker Suite (town), or through your church join a group Christmas caroling in your neighborhood, or invite a friend to a workplace party or vice versa.
Start with wherever you feel safest, take your Christmas courage in hand, and stretch out for more fun in a venue new to you.
Christmas Community of Friends
Circles of friends often expand during this most expansive time of year. A friend will host a Christmas party and you'll meet friends of theirs you've been hearing about for a long time. Or you might host a party and invite your friends to bring some of their friends.
Christmas for the Three Pigs
You could have gift exchanges, go caroling, go out to eat, or go to a performance or, most intimate of all, do the childhood sleepover scene, complete with tree and stockings, spiked eggnog, stories, and CDs playing Christmas music all night. It doesn't have to cost much (or it can) and can be a great launch for further activities like those that follow.
Neighborhood Christmas Community
If you already have friends in your neighborhood, this will be easy. If not, you've likely been saying hello to certain neighbors as you walk the dog or have nodded as you passed by on your bicycle. Now take courage in hand and go knock on their door with a plate of Christmas cookies or a bottle of wine. Ask if there have even been Christmas celebrations in this neighborhood before. Halfway through the bottle, ask if they'd like to join you in organizing one (lol).
Here are other things you could do for your neighborhood:
Dress your place beautifully with Christmas decorations to give a lift to the hearts of all who walk by.
Hold an impromptu contest to see who in your neighborhood has the best decorations. Mock up an award and take it with a gift of wine or pastries to meet the winner.
If you have a skill like writing, photography, or singing, give it to the neighborhood this season. Write an essay for each neighbor you have found something to admire about, format it nicely, and slip it into their mailbox or front door. Or give them a photo of their house, garden or pet. Or play Christmas music aloud as you walk down the street singing along and smiling wide at the neighbors you pass. Stop to chat.
Community of Work at Christmas
Gifts come in many forms and Christmas is a time of giving. Until the recession hit a few years ago, most people spent four to eight or more hours every day at a workplace. There is no way you can spend that many hours with the same group of people without creating some kind of bonding. This year, be one to give to your workplace community:
Bring Christmas snacks for coworkers to nibble on.
Take a poll of what kind of Christmas music coworkers like. Buy some CDs and play them in the afternoons, when mental activity lightens up.
Decorate your part of the office, warehouse or factory (and more, if they'll let you). Dress in red, green, or sparkly gold. Wear a holiday tie, vest, or jewelry.
Sing to yourself often and smile more than usual. Send Christmas jokes to your coworkers via email.
Invite your favorite coworkers to a home party or organize one at work.
Take refreshments to work - like fudge, divinity, or Christmas pie.
Drop a little Christmas gift by everyone's computer or machine, or give them Christmas cards. Make your gifts generic for those you don't know well and personal for those you do.
Town Dressed for Christmas
Town activity always picks up during the holidays, from before Halloween clear through until after New Years Day - pretty much three straight months of celebration and preparation for celebration. Town activities you can take on will vary, depending on the role you play, but can include church, shopping, official city events, arts events, charity, and decorating your storefront, if you have one.
You can be involved in organizing any of these events or be an active participant in them. Whichever you choose, your Christmas will be enhanced by taking part:
- Churches often have parties, potlucks, visitations, and performances you can take part in. This is a good time to join the choir, if your church has one, since most people are familiar enough with carols to learn them easily. Or help put on a Christmas play.
- When you are planning to shop, look first at the city's website to see what official Christmas activities they are sponsoring, then choose to go shopping during those times. Take friends or family with you. Dress the part, even wearing a Santa cap if you have one.
Larry's Christmas Story
Arrange to attend a Christmas performance of some kind. Again, check the city website and the websites of local performing arts companies. One of my brothers used to be a dancer and I watched him perform in the Nutcracker Suite one year.
Make donations to charities, buy gifts for the poor, or help cook Christmas dinner for a homeless shelter. Even dogs in a doggie homeless shelter can appreciate a gift or two. Read Christmas stories to kids in an orphanage.
Sweet Stuffed Animals
Christmas Gifts to the Community
One church I belonged to asked for donations of stuffed animals from its members one year, collecting them under a floor-to-ceiling Christmas tree. On Christmas Eve 10 or 15 of us took the collection to nursing homes, singing carols as we gave them away, one bed at a time. The faces of nearly all of those present lit up, residents and attendants alike. Some residents sang with us, many cried and reached out for hugs, a few snatched the toys to their chests and turned quickly away, so we couldn't see their faces. That was one of my all time favorite Christmases.
Christmas Time at Starbucks
Christmas can be an extremely poignant time. As I was writing this at Starbucks with the smell of fresh coffee filling the room, it suddenly started to storm outside, enhancing the coziness and reminding me of the storms of my childhood.
A woman in an armchair near me started talking about a snowstorm her house had been buried in once. Then the sound system started playing the Nutcracker Suite and I thought of my brother (now deceased) dancing the mouse king in the ballet. My heart filled and tears started to flow.
This is one of the things I like best about Christmas, this unexpected poignance. After all of these years and with many more to come, the magic persists. May we all be blessed with the vulnerability, overflowing love, resourcefulness, and courage to help make Christmas brighter in our communities for ourselves and for everyone we meet.