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Five things I’ve learned in co-housing that have enriched my holidays

One of the great things about co-housing for me is that neighbors often compensate or fill in for gaps in my own interests and abilities. Consider, for example, that my 9-year-old daughter lacked a costume with just a couple days to go before Halloween. She didn’t even have a concept yet, let alone a functioning costume, and this weighed on me. I have to confess that I’ve never been a big Halloween fan in the first place; I like the idea of creating fun costumes, but buying plastic costumes and knocking on other people’s doors to ask for candy just irks me. Do we really need any more plastic or sugar in our lives?

Well, thanks to close relationships with our co-housing neighbors, my daughter got an idea from a good friend a few houses away—her friend suggested they dress up as two bags of jelly beans, and my daughter was enthusiastic about working out this costume idea with a buddy. The girls did ask for some adult help here and there but mostly they pulled it off themselves and had a ball in the process. Candy and plastic aside, I’m happy—I’ve advanced two goals in my life: facilitating my daughter’s developing independence and finding opportunities for synergy with neighbors and friends.

Co-housing can make finding these opportunities for synergy so much easier. Trite as it sounds, life is easier and happier when you share both burdens and joys, provided that is what you are seeking. So, for the holidays, here are five things I’ve learned from my neighbors about making it more fun, more interesting, more connected, and more meaningful.

Nubi outing club on a local hike in late fall

Go outside, even when the days are short and the temperatures drop.
Nothing changes restless energy like cold, fresh air. There are lots of things to notice in a late autumn landscape. At Nubi, we are lucky to have a pond which typically freezes in December. Ideally, we can fit in a little ice-skating before significant snow arrives. We watch the water freeze, first in tractor tracks on the fields, later in the pond. We drill and measure the ice, listen for cracking, and get out our skates.

Neighbors of all ages discuss Farmer Boy

Connect celebrations with your own interests and goals.
I love reading and music, so my favorite holiday traditions at Nubi are a book discussion group, a contra-dancing party, and the New Year’s day neighborhood house concert. It turns out that many neighbors share my interests.

Decorating gingerbread lanterns

Build traditions on local talent.
Instead of looking far afield for inspiration, focus close to home. One of our neighbors, a music teacher and pianist, organizes and acts as master of ceremonies for the annual neighborhood concert, with grace and humor. Another neighbor, a terrific baker and organizer, leads the neighborhood in an annual gingerbread construction project.

Connect food with activities.
While I love to eat as much as the next person, something about the excessive focus on eating around the holidays is depressing. I’ve noticed that by sidelining holiday treats to fun activities, some of that focus on food shifts away. We exchange secret gnome gifts with a side of hot cocoa and cookies.

Learn from other people’s rituals, religious and otherwise.
Rather than watering down rituals to develop traditions that work for everyone, invite and celebrate diversity. One of our neighbors invites the neighborhood kids to light candles on the 8 evenings of Hanukkah. Another invites a Kirtan group to meet in our Common House regularly. Another helps to organize a meditation labyrinth on New Year’s Day. Vive la difference!

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