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Best Community-Building Ideas From the ’70s

The progressive dinner party and other retro ideas to get people together

Published on: September 19, 2022

Family-and-friends-having-dinner-together

When things are overwhelming in my life, I think back to rosier times. For me, it’s the late seventies, when I was young but still able to remember Stevie Wonder on the radio, my mom’s denim bell bottoms and cold cans of Miller High life icing in the cooler on the back porch. 

While I did my very best to give my kids a seventies summer these past few years, I’m itching for moments like these to last all year. What I miss most about that era is that strong emphasis on community.

It has been a rough couple of years. The pandemic certainly took a toll on us: on our health and on the health of our communities. While it’s taken some time to shake off the anxiety of these tough times, it seems we’re in a period of calm where we can gather carefully with friends and loved ones. Even with this green light, many families might still feel like they’re struggling to make connections with their communities.

Our communities are more important than ever. Seattle author Angela Garbes, in the intro to her book, “Essential Labor: Mothering as Social Change.” says “let’s raise our children as well as we can, together.” When we center and share the labor of child-rearing, families can help care for each other, at the same time restitching a stronger social fabric.   

Here are just a few ideas from the ’70s that can help build community. You could plan something this week for National Neighbor Day

The progressive dinner party

The traditions of the ’70s that fostered community were just a few, special events that were circled on our family calendar. I remember attending progressive dinner that gathered friends and neighbors together and moved to multiple houses. A progressive dinner  is essentially a dinner party where all the different courses are served by hosts in different homes. There was something about families arriving at one house and trooping off to the next that was merry and fun. In fact, our Seattle street has made the progressive dinner our holiday party for many years.

Old-school gatherings

There were other ’70s highlights that many of us are ready to see come back: movie nights (both indoor and outdoor), sleepovers and backyard camping. Events like ice-skating parties or painting parties, where all family members can participate, allow us to have meaningful experiences with our favorite people. 

Games

Our family enjoyed a screen-free vacation this summer, where we could indulge in favorites like reading or doing puzzles. I want to savor these activities all year, not just on vacation. Remember when our parents played poker and Bunko? I’m ready to bring it back. Game nights and card nights — these activities are part of my core memories, and I want those for my kids, too. Will they be bored? I hope so. I’m tired of curating, planning and structuring activities. A card deck means we can gather around the table and connect with each other. Card games like Uno and Rummy are suitable for almost all ages. 

Food-based social events

I also think about community building and food. I fondly remember my high school soccer team’s spaghetti dinners, which were not just for carb-loading, but for connection. Today, I think about gathering and making dinner, or even dessert as a simple way to bring folks together. I’m ready for ice cream socials and more old-fashioned potlucks, too. And more opportunities to volunteer to make meals for others.

The power of community 

I am grateful for my schools, my street and my neighborhood.  I appreciate chatting with my barista, my dentist and the vet. I know that I can text my neighbors for a stamp or eggs in a pinch. We have built ways to support each other. We watch our kids out of windows, roaming the neighborhood in packs. We share snacks and put band-aids on other kids’ boo-boos. There are dinner invitations tossed out, last-minute babysitting fill-ins, and regular offers to water plants and grab the mail. Feeling cared for and extending care is what makes a community. 

My ’70s childhood is full of vivid memories of walking into other people’s homes, and always feeling welcome. I felt connected to something bigger, something that would hold me. I hope this year allows us to embrace older traditions with new ones, as we create communities that work better to hold all of us. 

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