By Lindsey Brady, Crosswalk.com
“Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for God has already approved what you do.” -Ecclesiastes 9:7
When Solomon wrote this in Ecclesiastes, I doubt he had my holiday celebrations in mind; however, this verse encapsulates my holiday plans perfectly: eat, drink and be merry!
But the Christmas season also reminds me of what Jesus said in Matthew 22:39, about the second most crucial commandment Christians should keep. “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
While I could focus solely on myself this Christmas, I find it more rewarding to help spread the merriment of the holidays to those around me, including to my literal neighbor. By doing this, my life becomes engulfed in joy, and my heart becomes more focused on the reason for the season: Jesus!
To help you do the same, here are my top 10 ideas to bring your neighbor joy this Christmas.
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1. Host a dinner.
Savor the Christmas season this year by cherishing time spent with the people in your life. Invite a few of your neighbors over for a potluck dinner. Cook the main dish and ask a few people to bring sides and desserts. If you’re feeling extra hospitable, provide all aspects of the meal and let your neighbors enjoy their evening. Just make sure you communicate with all your neighbors about any dietary restrictions.
When it comes time to have your neighbors over, make your home extra festive by turning on your Christmas tree, and lighting your favorite Christmas-scented candle. Have light Christmas music playing in the background, too! Sit around the fireplace (or this video of a fire) and enjoy one another’s company.
When it comes time to leave, give your neighbors a small gift, like a mug with hot cocoa packets and marshmallows.
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2. Organize a cookie exchange.
Instead of baking 24 different types of Christmas cookies, try hosting a cookie exchange this year. Find a handful of neighbors who’d like to participate and have each select one or two types of cookies to make. You can ask everyone to bake their holiday favorites, or you can assign cookie types to prevent repeats. Then, invite everyone over to exchange cookies with one another.
Everyone will leave a variety of cookies, without having to be chained to their kitchens all of December.
You can even turn the cookie exchange into an entire afternoon celebration. Put on your favorite Christmas movie and provide hot cocoa and popcorn. Invite neighbors to stay for a couple of hours to watch a flick and nibble on those delectable cookies.
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3. Provide babysitting.
Christmas is a hugely busy time. There are never-ending parties and celebrations, a million and a half things to bake, and gifts to purchase and wrap. This last part can be especially tricky for parents of children who still believe in Santa or just want to manage to keep the gifts they’re giving a surprise.
If you have a neighbor with small kids, offer to watch them one evening so their parents can get their Christmas shopping done. Or even just take a night off together. If you have kids, too, see if you can work out a child swap. Watch their kids one night, and send your kids to the neighbor's house another night. This way, you can get your shopping done in peaceful bliss.
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4. Shovel their driveway.
After a particularly heavy snow, I came home from work to find that our neighbors had shoveled our driveway. Well, actually, I came home to see our neighbor in the middle of snow blowing our driveway, so I looped one more time around the block until he was done. I know, I know—kinda shady. But you guys, I hate shoveling the driveway, and that was some dense snow.
So apparently my neighbors are better people than me, but great news: you can be that great neighbor to someone else. Grab your shovel or snow blower and help someone out, especially someone like a single woman or an elderly person. But honestly, anyone will appreciate having the “shovel the driveway” checked off their list for them so whoever you help will be thankful!
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5. Go caroling together.
A wise man once said, “The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.”
Okay, yeah. The guy I’m talking about is Will Ferrell as Buddy the Elf, but that doesn’t detract from his wisdom. Christmas caroling spreads cheer at lightning speeds.
Grab your family and friends and go door to door singing some of the all-time classics, like Silent Night or Hark the Herald Angels Sing. If you’re feeling extra festive, whip out Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas is You, along with a choreographed dance. That’s a sure-fire way to get the neighborhood jazzed up!
If you want to go over the top with your caroling, bring a plate of cookies along and offer your neighbors a sweet treat.
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6. Organize a neighborhood food drive.
Nothing gets people in the true Christmas spirit quite as well as helping others. Bring your neighborhood together this Christmas by organizing a food drive.
After Thanksgiving, contact your local food bank and ask what nonperishable food items they need. Print out a list of those foods, along with an explanation of what you’re doing, and deliver that info sheet door to door. If someone isn’t home, either leave the sheet in their mailbox or on their front door. Let your neighbors know they can drop off the goods on your doorstep at any time and also designate a day that you’ll come to pick up any items.
Together, you’ll help restock your local food bank in the midst of the season during which they serve the most people.
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7. Be a secret Santa.
My absolute favorite way to give Christmas gifts is secret-Santa style. I love the idea of people anonymously receiving a present they weren’t expecting. It can be such a huge blessing, and with no one to thank, they turn their gratitude towards God.
Your secret-Santa present can be something small like a Christmas movie, caramel popcorn, or hot cocoa. Or your gift could be something life-changing, like a new washing machine. Another secret-Santa idea I love is to collect pocket change and loose dollar bills throughout the year. Then deliver that jar of money to the doorstep of a single mom in your life.
By giving these gifts without receiving credit, it really highlights how generous our Heavenly Father is and how he abundantly blesses all of us.
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Host a wrapping party.
I don’t know about you, but I often have a gift for weeks before I actually get around to wrapping it, mostly because of my lack of wrapping paper. Or tape. Or ribbon. Or gift tags. (I'm pretty much a wrapping-mess!)
So why not host a present wrapping party for you and a few neighbors? Have each person bring a pair of scissors and a few rolls of wrapping paper. Provide tape, ribbons, and snacks. Put on a Christmas movie and spend your evening wrapping all the presents you're giving.
This is an especially great idea for college dorms or student apartment buildings. It provides students with an opportunity to wrap their gifts before going home for the holidays. It’s also a fantastic stress-buster during the chaos of finals week!
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Driving through a neighborhood where almost every home has lights on their house and a tree in its window is such a joyful treat.
But the problem with Christmas decorations is that they often have to be set up in crummy weather. The cold, snow or ice can be especially tricky to brave, and the last thing you want is someone slipping off their roof. Also, let’s be honest: setting up Christmas decorations can be exhausting! Some years, it’s a struggle to find the time to set up your decorations.
So, if you have a neighbor who usually decorates but hasn’t yet this year, reach out and see if they need help. It'll bring joy to your neighbor, and to the rest of your neighbors who get to look at the beautiful decorations!
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Give a simple card.
It’s hard to explain my joy when I open our mailbox, and there’s a piece of mail that is neither a bill nor addressed to “current resident.” It’s almost like the Christmas-morning-equivalent of adulthood.
So why not take advantage of this super simple way to bring joy to your neighbors? Buy a multi-pack of Christmas cards and write a heartfelt note about how much these people mean to you. Tell stories of how they’ve blessed you this year, and thank them for being great neighbors.
Bonus: this is a great way to introduce yourself to neighbors you don’t know as well. Introduce yourself via a card and follow up with your neighbors with one of the other ideas in this article. Christmas times lends itself well to forming yearlong relationships with your neighbors.
Lindsey Brady is a wife and stepmother who loves to spend time in nature or going for long runs. When she's feeling a bit more sedentary, she'll watch an entire season of any Food Network show in a single sitting. You can follow her on Instagram at real.slim.brady.
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