How to really connect this Christmas

Written by Pip Harry for Real Insurance.

This Christmas, many of us will be celebrating renewed opportunities to reconnect with family and friends, mingle with our neighbours, volunteer in the community, and perhaps give back to those less fortunate.

Maureen Maher from not-for-profit community organisation Neighbourhood Connect says local support and social ties are more important than ever. “When we have good relationships with neighbours, we can feel a greater sense of trust and belonging, and this can lead to feeling safer and more supported. Connecting in our community is also good for our health. Research shows that people with good community connections are happier, experience less depression and anxiety, and have less physical health problems.”

According to Real Insurance’s ‘Real Joys 2021 Report’ the tough times of COVID-19 have shifted our priorities towards gratitude and human bonds: 67% of Australians have more appreciation for the simple things in life, with 63% of parents saying they are more grateful for each other, and others being thankful for the shared joys in life and spending time with loved ones. “The festive season is the perfect time to reach out to neighbours and make a connection,” says Maureen. “Making connections might seem daunting at first but it need not be. Start simply and try new ideas as you feel more confident. You might be surprised by the positive responses you get!”

Start a gift drive

Many charities are looking for donations over the Christmas period to support those doing it tough. Organise a gift or food drive with friends, family or your local community. Spread the word on social media or with a simple flyer or poster. Collect and drop your gifts to local charities like the Salvos or Kmart Wishing Tree.

Hold a charity bake off

Have a delicious shortbread, rocky road or rumball recipe? Put your baked goods to the test this Christmas with a charity bake off. Invite your neighbours to whip up their best festive treat, eat the entries together and raise funds for charities like The Smith Family or Simply Giving, an online toy drive which supports Barnardo’s, Vinnies and Variety.

Volunteer this Christmas

Volunteers at Christmas.

“If you want to spread some Christmas cheer, why not consider volunteering in your local community during the festive season?” suggests Maureen. “Check out your local council website, community organisation or neighbourhood centre for opportunities to volunteer your time and talent.” At Christmas, charities need help with packing hampers, wrapping gifts or helping to prepare and serve Christmas lunch. The Salvos offer festive volunteering opportunities for individuals or groups and the Samaritans host large Christmas lunches in Newcastle, Singleton and Wyong for those experiencing homelessness or those disadvantaged. There are plenty of volunteering ideas on the Christmas in Australia website, too.

Love local

Before heading online to buy gifts or booking a restaurant out of area, check out what’s on offer in your local hood. Visit a local festive market and chat to stallholders, browse your local shops or suppliers and make a purchase that makes a difference to people in your community.

Drop a review

Take the time to post a positive review for a local small business online – whether it’s a lovely café, hardworking plumber or a creative florist, word of mouth is essential for their survival. 

Donate a plate

Dinner table with food and empty plates.

All the Christmas volunteer spots taken? Wayside Chapel in Sydney runs a ‘Donate a Plate’ campaign in the lead up to Christmas - $25 feeds an individual, $50 a couple or $100 a family.

Support the elderly

The reality is, most Australians will experience loneliness at some point in their lives. "Despite being a joyful time of year, many people feel lonely, especially if they don’t have close friends or family,” says Maureen. “Think about your neighbours who live alone, are elderly or have limited mobility. How can you make a difference? Sometimes the simplest of gestures can make a big impact – for example, get your kids to draw a picture to leave in their letterbox or knock on the door and give it to them in person and say hello.”

Deliver meals or stop in for a cuppa

Sign up to be a community visitor through the Red Cross Community Visitor Scheme and you can drop in to have a cuppa and a chat with a senior, providing them with vital social interaction, both at Christmas and throughout the year. Meals on Wheels offers ongoing volunteer roles across Australia – deliver meals, be a kitchen hand or support social outings.

Attend events close to home

It can be easy to ignore the entertainment offerings in your own backyard, but local events are fun, family-friendly, and often free. Most local councils have a ‘what’s on’ page to search for upcoming events, including music festivals, fun runs, school fairs, art shows and community theatre productions. You’ll be supporting your local community with the time, work and energy that goes into organising and putting on local events.

Go green

People work in community garden.

Love a Christmas tree? It’s worth considering the impact of carbon footprints in the real vs fake debate. Clever and stylish alternatives could include a book tree or how about an upcycled ladder tree for something different? 

The longer summer days are the perfect time to meet environmentally-minded neighbours. Most suburbs have a community garden or plot where you can meet other green thumbs or learn about horticulture. To find a garden in your area go to

Help maintain and protect your local bushland, waterways or coastline by volunteering in a Landcare group and joining in with conservation activities.