Monday, December 27, 2010
As I sit here reflecting on the Christmas holiday, I am overcome with joy and sadness. I have always wanted to create community. So wherever I am, I make sure all are introduced and try and find common ground amongst strangers, so they can have a conversation. I am constantly organizing gatherings of friends or the neighbor kids to build relationships. It is my calling. So as my family begins this transition from our neighborhood, to another one, I am sad. We know it is the right time for us to move. We need to find a space we feel good in. A space for all of us, to live, home school, play, relax, work, etc. We have cultivated many friendships on this street. We know we are lucky and that it is rare that neighbors even talk. Many people are so rushed and self centered that they pull right into their garage and never say hi. When we are running around we still greet our neighbors. I feel it is more important than rushing off to our location.
So after five years of the Community Christmas tree, we finally decided to do something new. I have seen my parents street light luminary bags all the way down the street on Christmas Eve. It was always so beautiful. I really wanted to do this and told a few neighbors we would. So I bought white lunch bags, tea light candles and kitty litter. At about 3 p.m. a few families headed out with wagons in tow, to line to luminaries all in a row. The kids took turns pouring kitty litter in the bags and placing a candle in the bag. We lined the street with 160 bags. People were slowing down and asking what we were doing and when we would light them? We invited all to come out and see the magic at 6 p.m. When we at started the lighting, a few neighbors came out to help and in about 10 minutes, all the candles were lit. It was breath taking! Absolutely amazing! There were about 12 families that came out in ahhh. We stood around visiting, sharing hot chocolate and Christmas plans. while admiring the simple gesture of lights. Some neighbors reintroduced themselves and others shared fun memories.
The bags stayed lit for quite awhile. As I hustled around, setting up for Christmas morning, I kept glancing out the window at the lights. I felt so good to see the lights and how happy the people were. The last time I glanced most of the lights were out. It was about 10:30. There was one light right in front of our house. I got chills. I said to my husband, "honey, you know what that means?" He said, "yes, we are the light." I said, "yes we are." Then he said, "you are the light."
As we woke up the next morning and saw the bags lining the street it still had a sense of beauty. We were so busy with the kids and family we didn't have time to pick up the bags. We planned on doing it Sunday morning, but it had rained so, the clean up would require a large garbage being rolled up and down the street, with a shovel. My husband left to run an errand and the bags were still there. When he returned the bags were gone. Some good neighbor had done a good deed and cleaned the street. What a surprise. We were left to wonder who had been the angel. We had to except the love we received by giving the light to others.
When we first looked at this house, a neighbor in her seventies, came out and handed me oranges, because I was pregnant with my first. She was the light on the street. She would wave to all, greet them and come to a fast halt in her car, just to get involved in a conversation. She loved the gatherings we created, especially the community Christmas tree. She would buy all the kids on the street Advent calenders and gave treats to all who stopped buy. She passed away, suddenly 2 years ago, November. All were shocked and completely saddened. That year we bought a giant icicle star, to put on the 15 ft. tree out front. It was for Inge. She was there in spirit. This year I took that star and put it on our inside family tree. It matched my snowflake theme. The star shines so bright. Her house is still in the family and her son dropped by Sunday afternoon with a gift. I opened the card and it said, "The holidays aren't always easy, but with the glow of every candle and the twinkle of every Christmas star, may happy memories warm your heart and light the way to a perfect season and hope filled New Year." He then added, "thank you for bringing so much sunshine to my mothers life!" I opened the package and there was one of her Hummels, a fine collectible figure of a boy and girl, made in Germany. She had quite the collection. My heart melted and I was later brought to tears when I shared it with my husband.
So as the season comes to a close and you are reflecting, ask yourself what can you do to be the light in someone else's life? Imagine if everyone did this? What a kind world we would live in?How joyous and peaceful it would be. Be the light. It doesn't have to be a big gesture, it could just be a smile or a hello. Happy Holidays!
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
We live in a old established neighborhood. We have been here for 10 years. My husband and I have worked hard to create community with our neighbors. We greet people as they walk by, we wave to cars, we visit with neighbors. We have held monthly dinners, block parties, Halloween parties, bike parades, book drives, toy drives, collected for stone soup projects, hunted for the Leprechaun's gold, held cookie making parties, everyday play dates on the lawn, Lego club days, etc. As you can tell we have created a good thing.
In 2005, my husband decided to get a 15 foot tree and temporarily plant in in the front yard for Christmas. We sent out invitations to all the neighbor's to come to the first annual community Christmas tree. We asked all to bring an ornament to decorate, a dish to share and toy to donate. It was a huge hit! We had 100 people on the front lawn. They were eating, drinking, laughing, decorating the tree, taking family photos in front of the tree, meeting new neighbors and reconnecting with old. When it was almost time to light the tree, the local fire station would come and show the kids the truck, pass out stickers and hats, then collect the toys. We always had a big countdown to light the tree. It was such a beautiful sight to see the tree lighting up the street. This party went annually for 5 years!
We would take the neighbor kids out to a local tree farm, choose the biggest tree we could handle and cut it down. Then came the dragging it to the truck and hoisting it up. Once we got home we would dig a 3-4 ft. hole in lawn to lower the trunk into and stake it down. We would have big hay bales around it to act as support and were great seats at the party. We would gather tables from the neighbors to set up an elaborate potluck of appetizers, crock pots, desserts and even a chocolate fountain. We had a fire pit that kept many warm, long after the crowd had died down. The party would start around 3 and often go till at least 9! The kids loved the tradition of going to the farm, riding around in the old Ford truck, drinking hot cocoa and eating donuts. The best part was being able to party and play outside with their friends in the dark. As the years went on, the neighbors would come and go and outsiders were invited in, to share the good spirit of the street. We were real proud of how a simple tree could bring people together.
In 2009, things changed and we held our last tree party. We went out to the tree farm without any help from friends, and cut down the biggest tree we had yet. Four adults and one kid pulled with all our might to get that tree in the truck. My 5 year old just laid on the ground and laughed at how we were barely moving and inch. A worker, who was smaller then me, came over to help, and some how we got it in the truck. I know there was some help from the angels that day! When we got home, the guys on the street helped put it in the ground. As I got ready for the party there was one neighbor who saw we could use some help. He stayed all day and decorated the tree. It was amazing to see his love and dedication. He really took pride in what he was doing. It was the best tree we had yet! Another angel sent to me that day. The party went on, it wasn't the biggest, maybe 50 people. I had some moments in the party that I noticed change in the neighborhood. Some people didn't come, others stayed in and peered out instead of joining. It was fun for those who came, but I had a bit of sadness that times were changing and that this would be my final year of hosting.
This all leads to this year, 2010. I didn't host the Halloween party and the kids were still upset about that, then they quickly realized, we may not have the tree party. My 9 year old, said, "mom you can't drop all of our traditions!" So, after much debate and some grieving at the passing of a tradition, we decided to have a block decorating party. A day for neighbors to come out decorate their homes, visit with others, share some snacks and hot drinks. We thought we would buy red bows to hang on all the trees on the street. We also looked up some different charities and decided to go ahead and hold a toy drive. Our home was the gathering place to drop off toys, donate money for the bows and share a snack. As we returned from the tree farm at 12:15, I rushed to the store to be back by 1 for a gathering that I was looking forward to. It was simple, no stress and different. A way to gather people and share the holiday spirit. I quickly realized that many people probably hardly read the invite and assumed it was the same old tree party. They started to come with big platters of food, I scrambled for plates and silverware. They brought hot drinks and needed cups. Then came the rain, we all quickly pushed the tables into the garage and porch and tried to stay dry. This didn't stop the kids from playing, building forts, swinging on the rope swing, eating cookies, shooting baskets and staying warm by the fire. It was a disappointment to others when they found out we weren't doing the tree or the fire fighters weren't coming.
I felt sad about the change, but knew in my heart it was the right thing to do. I have been trying to gently prepare our neighbors for the future. We are having a baby and need more room for my homeschooling and my husbands office. We have had so much fun in our 10 years here and have made some great friends. We know we can create this type of community wherever we are. As I walk down the street or even take a quick glance, I see the red bows, and it is really pretty! A simple way to remind others that we care and appreciate them as a part of our unique community. I realized this is missing in many neighborhoods. As I was buying 60 bows at the dollar store, the gal ringing me up said, "what do you need all the bows for?" I said, "we are decorating the street, by hanging the bows on all the big trees." She looked at me and said, "Why?" I was shocked, and saddened that she didn't get the point. Greet your neighbors. This is the only life you have here, enjoy it to the fullest, make it special and memorable, even if you don't have kids, you are worth it and so are others. Happy Holidays!