How well do you know your neighbors? Do you pick up their paper when they’re away for the weekend? Do they help jump your car when the battery dies? Whether you live in a house or apartment, a city or suburb, you probably live near other people. Neighbor Appreciation Day is a special holiday that was established to strengthen and honor the connections among neighbors.
The idea originated in 1995, when I presented a letter to Mayor Norm Rice during his visit to the Phinney Neighborhood Center. The Seattle Times had run an article on “Neighbors from Hell” and I felt really put off because my neighbors were terrific. I was pretty sure I wasn’t the only person who felt that way either.
The mayor liked my idea and asked Jim Diers of the Department of Neighborhoods to “make it be so.” We worked together to choose a date and brainstorm ways that neighbors could be celebrated. The Saturday before Valentine’s Day was chosen, to encourage a conscious effort to connect with our neighbors during the dark and dreary days of winter. Each year since then, Neighbor Appreciation Day has been declared through either a mayoral proclamation or by the Seattle City Council. This year, the date is Saturday, February 8.
You won’t be given the day off from work and the banks will be open, but it is still an opportunity to think about the role your neighbors play in your life. If you don’t know them well, it’s a chance to reach out with a card, plate of cookies, or invitation to get together. If you rely upon your neighbors for cups of sugar, cat-sitting, sharing tools (or extra zucchini), bringing in your empty trash cans and more, then this would be great time to say a big “thank you.”
When we first bought our house, we were approached by our next-door neighbor regarding the use of our shared driveway. We immediately thought “Uh-oh, curmudgeon alert!” but we could not have been more wrong. Jack became the grandfather I never had. He was in his 70s then and still fishing commercially. He always kept us stocked in fresh fish, filleted at his basement sink while he shared his favorite recipes and other friendly banter. The bounty of his fruit trees and vegetable garden were shared freely, along with the tools and equipment he had accumulated over the years – a real boon to us new homeowners.
When our first child was born he and his wife Ella delighted in our growing family and when our second child turned out to be twins, they really outdid themselves. The year our son started kindergarten, the girls were two and still napping in the afternoon. Jack would come over at the drop of a hat to sit and wait in case they woke up while I made the quick trip to school and back. As the kids got older, they always knew there was a soft touch next door for school fundraisers and Girl Scout cookie sales.
While Jack and Ella were truly extraordinary neighbors, we have been surrounded by caring community. Our neighbors have organized themselves into babysitting co-ops and block watch groups, hosted summer picnics, cider-pressing parties and caroling events, watched each other’s children grow up and tended each other as we have grown older. My block, my neighborhood, indeed my city is not special in this way. Whether inspired by Seattle or evolving separately, the idea of Neighbor Appreciation Day has emerged in towns across the US and places as diverse as Australia and the European Union. While the names and the practices of these celebrations vary, the spirit of community among neighbors seems to be universal.
What do you appreciate about your neighbors? Tell us your stories and share ideas of how you might reach out or express your gratitude on February 8. We want to hear from you!
Judith Wood is an Operations Manager with UW Professional and Continuing Education. Before coming to work for UW she was lucky to have family-friendly jobs at her local elementary school and the Phinney Neighborhood Association. When she’s not working, she’s probably singing, dancing, playing Scrabble with her sister, cooking or reading a book.