Neighborhood Concerts

Since our family has moved often throughout the United States and Europe, we wanted to establish a successful holiday tradition that could be done wherever we lived. Based on an idea I read about, we began several years ago to host yearly neighborhood Christmas benefit concerts.

Held at our home in early December, the concert is for everyone on our street. Several weeks in advance we deliver invitations, encouraging all the neighborhood children to think about their talents and decide on one to share, either individually or in a group. Our concerts have featured a variety of talents, including musical performances, poetry readings, displays of art projects and athletic trophies, gymnastics, and magic tricks.

Each family is also invited to bring Christmas goodies to share. At the appointed hour, we welcome everyone to our home. Then with our video camera rolling, we record the children performing or demonstrating their talents. After the benefit concert, the children pass around a donation container to collect proceeds for a charitable organization in the community. One year, they collected canned goods for the local food bank. The children are always thrilled to see how their collective efforts can raise substantial contributions.

After the concert, we enjoy visiting with one another while eating the goodies from our potluck refreshment table. And the children love viewing themselves on video while they eat.

If our Christmas holiday season has been too busy to accommodate this activity, we have an Easter benefit concert instead. Our concerts have appealed to all ages, even to neighbors whose children are grown. Through the years, this simple activity has helped us build strong friendships in our various neighborhoods. In fact, after we have lived a year or two in an area, our neighbors begin to ask, “When are you holding this year’s benefit concert?”

Diane Robinson Haines, Crescent Park Fourth Ward, Sandy Utah Crescent Park Stake

[illustration] Illustrated by Joe Flores

Simplifying Christmas

At Christmastime do you make a long list of to-do items? For many of us, the answer is a resounding yes. But we would rather enjoy a relaxed holiday season, focusing instead on the birth of the Savior. Eliminating some of our “must do’s” can help. Consider making the following adjustments to your busy Christmastime routine:

Simplify correspondence. Avoid the holiday rush by mailing your cards early in December or after the New Year to avoid post office crowds. Or, instead, send cards for Thanksgiving or other occasions throughout the year.

Shop early. To find a good selection of presents when crowds are minimal, bargain shop year-round, or at least start early. For convenience, consider mail-order and Internet purchases.

Trim gift giving for family and close friends. For large families, drawing names and asking for “wish lists” make Christmas shopping easier. Cash or gift certificates, magazine subscriptions, or “tradition” presents (repeat items given yearly) based on the recipient’s hobbies or favorite foods are also appreciated. Or rather than exchanging presents, let family and friends know that you are donating what money you would have spent on them to charity.

Simplify gifts for ward members and neighbors. Where I live, neighbors like to exchange small, inexpensive gifts. I often purchase ingredients in bulk and work with family members to quickly assemble our neighborhood gifts.

Prepare and shop for food ahead of time. If you prefer to serve homemade treats during the holidays, prepare and freeze them ahead of time. Otherwise, stock up on holiday goodies that are shelf-stable.

Scale back decorating plans. Consider displaying half your holiday decorations one year and half the next. You will not only enjoy more free time but also add variety to your holiday decor each season.

As you prepare for this special time of year, try to simplify at least a few of your seasonal projects. Then relax and enjoy the beauty of this sacred season.

Kerry Griffin Smith, Bountiful Seventh Ward, Bountiful Utah South Stake

No More Last-Minute Lessons

Our family rotates various family home evening responsibilities. Too often, though, the person in charge of the lesson procrastinates or forgets, and we receive a last-minute lesson.

To resolve this problem, my husband and I decided to periodically hold a family home evening to help everyone prepare an upcoming lesson. The first time we did this activity, we discussed how prayer helps us seek inspiration for preparing lessons specific to our needs. We then invited each family member to come up with his or her own list of possible topics. We also talked about the importance of teaching effectively from the scriptures, thus making them more meaningful and applicable to our lives. To further enhance our lessons, we suggested using ideas from Church magazines, singing hymns and Primary songs, or using puppet shows and other games to hold younger children’s interest.

We then spread out and began working quietly on our lessons. I went in another room to help our preschooler. By the time we had finished, she had prepared her first lesson by drawing pictures of the beautiful things God has created for us. The others also had each carefully prepared a lesson, without revealing their ideas, and were ready for their upcoming turns.

Not only does this activity help us to have more thoughtful family home evening lessons, but it also helps our children acquire teaching skills they can use in future Church callings.

Kathy Rose, Layton Sixth Ward, Layton Utah Stake

[illustration] Illustrated by Beth Whittaker