What says “Holiday Season” to you? Is it when the calendar hits November 1? Is it putting up your decorations? Is it your favorite coffee shop’s new festive cups?
Whatever speaks to you, you can’t deny that here in the middle of November, the holiday season has begun. As exciting as this time of year is, we cannot deny it is very busy for many of us. Shopping lists, travel plans, and dinner menus can all quickly overshadow the true joy that the holidays bring.
Here in the south we have a reputation for hospitality. But I know for myself, many times my hospitality doesn’t extend too far outside of my circle of friends and familiar faces. The holidays are a time of celebrating and time with family. We get warm fuzzy feelings of gratitude as we fill our plates and our hearts spending time with those closest to us.
But for many in our communities, the holidays are a reminder of loss, pain, and loneliness.
Who do you see in your day to day life that might need a little warmth and kindness? That annoying co-worker? That unfriendly elderly couple up the street? That mom in your playgroup who tries so hard to fit in? For me, I think of all the homeless, the veterans, the shut-ins, the international students, but also those in our own backyard. Our neighbors, colleagues, and other acquaintances are also needy, but in a different way.
What would it look like to take our southern hospitality past politeness and potlucks? What if we invited those who are struggling, those who are lonely, and those who are hard to love into our lives this season? What if we modeled for our kids what it looks like to step out of our comfort zone to serve those around us?
Hospitality probably looks different to every family depending on your space, time, budget, and stage of life. Here are six ways you can be hospitable during the holiday season.
1. Invite Others Into Your Home
Does the thought of having people in your home stress you out? Opening our home to someone is one of the most vulnerable and intimate things we can do – and some people need us to do that. Opening up our home shows others that we don’t have it all together, even though we want to seem like we do. When people see our piles of dirty dishes, our stacks of unfolded clothes, and our children running around like banshees, they see that we don’t have perfect Instagram-worthy lives. Your home doesn’t have to perfectly clean and decorated and involve a perfect three-course dinner menu. It just needs to be open, warm, and loving.
2. Host an International Student for Thanksgiving or Christmas Dinner
There are hundreds of international students studying at USC, Ben Lippen, and other local colleges and universities. Many of them will spend the holidays alone while their American friends travel home. If opening your home up to acquaintances makes you nervous, then the idea of opening up to a complete stranger might be even less desirable. It may seem awkward at first, but I’ve heard stories about how this experience blesses both parties involved. If you want to know more, you can register to host.
3. Bring Someone a Meal
Don’t have a space to host? Bring hospitality to someone else! You can come armed with ingredients to cook at their house or can bring care packages to someone to make their life easier, even when they don’t necessarily ask for it. Taking the task of preparing a meal may seem small, but for many it is a huge blessing.
4. Throw a “Block Party”
I am a little ashamed to say this, but I have lived in our neighborhood for almost five years now and I only know about four of my neighbors. If this sounds like you, one way to get to know those who live closest to you is to throw a block party. It can be as big or as low-key as you make it – from big pot luck shin-digs with games and activities to handing out cookies and hot cocoa for those neighbors walking by. Some of your neighbors still might not engage, but it could open up a door for relationships that wouldn’t otherwise happen in our day to day life.
5. Adopt a Family for Christmas
If “behind the scenes” hospitality is more your speed, consider adopting a child or a family for Christmas. Organizations like Families Helping Families, Salvation Army, and Epworth Children’s Home have opportunities to sponsor and care for some of the neediest families in our communities. You can also bless children on the other side of the globe through Samaritan’s Purse Operation Christmas Child. Though you may never see the people you sponsor through these projects, your donations will surely bless a family in more ways than one.
If you have more time than you do money, consider volunteering for an organization like the ones mentioned above. Many of the projects that collect donations need help processing, packing, and transferring goods. Food banks like Harvest Hope need help stocking, examining, and prepping food. Shelters such as Transitions need volunteers for food service. Columbia is full of opportunities to serve those in need.
You don’t have to look very far to find chances to spread a little love. Whether it’s feeding the homeless or inviting your co-worker to dinner, this year let’s make loving our neighbors part of our holiday traditions. What suggestions and opportunities would you add to the list?