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Ho Ho Ho and Away We Go!
By Debi Trammell, Columnist,
Current Activities in Geriatric Care

Tips for successful planning for Holiday activities... how to make the Holiday Season
special and successful!

The months of October through January are the busiest time of year for Activity

If you’re like me, as soon as the fourth of July fireworks go off, you’re thinking about
what to do for your residents over the holidays.  

So how do you make this time of year s

Tip #1: Take a deep breath. Don’t forget that holidays should be a joyful, relaxing and
memorable time for both you and your residents.  
If you’re stressed, they will be, too.  Your excitement and anticipation of holiday activities
will be contagious.   

Tip #2:  What worked before?  
Pull out your previous year’s calendars.  What did the residents love?  What flopped?  
I keep a manila folder labeled “Holidays” where I keep notes about table set up,
entertainers, decorations, budget, any information I may need later.  
It’s the first thing I pull out when I begin my holiday planning.  If you don’t already do this,
begin keeping good records this year.

Tip #3:  Involve the residents and staff.  
When it’s time to put up our seven facility Christmas Trees, I make it a calendar event.  
We play Christmas music, serve cocoa, and have a great time reminiscing about past

  •    At our holiday party our bus driver plays Santa, department heads serve food,
    and it truly feels like a family event.  pecial for a building full of residents, staff
    and family members?  I’m glad you asked!

  • When it’s time to take everything down, each tree goes into a labeled tree bag
    and ornaments go into tubs labeled with which tree they belong to.
  • They’re ready to go up next year.    

  • Your more artistic residents can design a facility Christmas card to send out to
    families and vendors.   
  • Assemble a group of staff and residents to carol down the hallways and hand
    out cards to room-bound residents.   

  •   This makes the staff a part of the celebration and it means the activity
    department doesn’t have to decorate the entire facility!

  • Our stations compete for prizes in a hall decorating contest every year, involving
    all shifts and the residents on their hall.  

  • Let them donate   It’s important that your residents get a chance to give during
    the holiday season.  

  • Last year we held a canned food drive for the local food pantry.  The residents
    were so excited to see their families bring in the donations, and some even
    made sure to donate a dollar to buy a can to put in the box.  

  • Help them make cards or gifts for their families and friends or clip coupons for a
    local shelter.  Include small dollar-store gifts and boxed Christmas cards in your
    prize selection for bingo, country stores or peanut auctions so that residents can
    find gifts to give to their loved ones.

  • Last year we did a holiday card mail out to troops overseas

  • Our residents need to know they are still an important, contributing part of their

Tip #4:  Involve the families.  
Our biggest event every year is the family and facility Thanksgiving dinner.  
We mail out invitations with the October billing statement.  The facility provides turkey
and all the fixings and we ask family members to bring a favorite dessert.  
Administration serves on the food line and department heads wear black and white and
act as wait-staff.  

I always hire live entertainment to play dinner music and we fill up three of our dining

In a smaller facility, you could have a cookie social where family members bake their
favorite cookies and you provide the beverage.  

Do you have a family member who plays the piano?  Ask them to play for a sing-along.

Tip #5:  Involve the community.  
This means businesses, family members, churches and vendors.  

Every October I send a letter out to all of the churches and many of the businesses in
our city telling them about the wonderful community of people we have here.  

I always attach a department wish list.  Some businesses require a specific request, so
be sure you know their donation policy before you send the letter.

Every facility vendor gets a call from me requesting donations for parties.  An application
to the Salvation Army Silver Angel Tree brought gifts for over 100 of my residents last

Invite church and school choirs to conduct practices at your facility.  Most churches put
on a Christmas pageant.  

Maybe they would be willing to put on one more performance at your facility.   Your local
senior center is full of active, vital people just looking for something to do.\A local
Jewish center or synagogue is a good source for Christmas day volunteers.
People love to give, especially during the holidays.  They just need to be asked.  
Be sure to send thank you cards!

Tip #6: Bring back the memories.  
The holidays are special because most people have fond memories of holidays past.  
Help your residents remember those special times.
I put a small boom box tuned into a holiday music station or playing a holiday CD at
each nursing station.  Holiday music puts you in the holiday mood!   
Show the classic holiday movies. Apple cider in a crock pot provides sensory
stimulation while it’s heating and again when residents drink it up.  
Ask your dietary department to bake plain sugar cookies then let residents decorate
Our residents enjoy wrapping empty boxes to stack under our facility trees.  
How about stringing popcorn?   A reminiscing session with your residents will provide
you with many ideas.

Tip #7: Bring in the kids!  
What are the holidays without children?  Plan a Christmas cookie party for staff
Turn that into an inter-generational activity by adding an art project or a simple team
game.     Call local day care centers and arrange for a small group to come sing a
couple of songs to your residents, or for your residents to read a Christmas story to

Tip #8: Don’t blow your budget.
Arrange for churches, schools and local companies to provide as much of your
entertainment as possible.  

Ask for donations of cookies and food for parties.  Use the internet for free coloring
pages, mazes, puzzles and Christmas card templates.  

Buy solid color plates and cups to use with holiday themed beverage napkins. Decorate
for fall and add little touches of Halloween.  

When November comes, just remove the Halloween pieces and you are ready for

Tip #9: Remember not everyone celebrates Christmas (or Halloween).  
Each facility has a different population.  

If you have residents who are not comfortable with celebrating Halloween, you may
want to call your party a Fall Festival and tone down your decorations.  
Remember to acknowledge Hanukah and Kwanzaa.

Even if you don’t have a formal celebration of these other holidays, add an “All about…”
activity on  your calendar and educate your residents about other seasonal celebrations.

Tip #10: Say Thank-you.  This may be the most important tip.  Send a thank you card to
every single volunteer, corporation, family member, school or church that touches your
residents during the holiday season.  

Not only is it the right thing to do, but a thank you this year will increase the chance that
you will receive help next year, too.  

Notes should be handwritten by you or residents and be specific about what item or
service was provided.

Bonus Tip:  Put your request in now to take some time off New Year’s week.  You’ll
need it!

About the author   
Debi Trammell is a full time Activity Director at Ashford Hall,  a 220 bed skilled nursing
facility.  She is responsible for activity planning for the general population and a 40 bed
Alzheimer’s / Dementia unit.  
Residents range in age from 26 – 100 years old, with a fairly large population of 50-70
year olds.
Formerly a corporate marketing manager, Debi has been an Activity Professional in
long term care for 9 1/2 years.  

Reprinted from Current  Activities in Geriatric Care, the leading activities magazine for
information on the latest person-centered, evidence based (and effective) activities!
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