Resources for Family Caregivers of Older Adults
Family Holiday Traditions are Strong, Healthy and Important to Our Seniors

Family Holiday Traditions are Strong, Healthy and Important to Our Seniors

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Are you celebrating the holidays with your senior loved ones, family members and friends? There are many ways that we celebrate our family holiday traditions, each family has its own to share.

Whatever faith or festivities your family enjoys, holiday traditions are deep in your senior’s soul and mean more than you may realize to their quality of life.

Do you have traditions that you follow each year?

Are there special foods that have become traditions in themselves so you must serve them?

Are there activities that you do every year at certain times or with special people?

In our immediate family, we have been celebrating Christmas in the same way for many years. In the last few years as the children are grown and gone and we even have a grandchild now, our traditions are taking on a new life.

We are reluctantly giving way to changing some of the things we usually do because of the fact that the family is more spread out. We have others who are also putting demands on our time which alter our traditions (such as in-laws who want to share the grandchild love and parents who now live nearby).

It requires some flexibility and patience as we realize some of our heartfelt traditions will fall by the wayside while we create new traditions. Even as our new traditions take on meaning for us in the future, they won’t replace our other deep-seated and treasured memories.

Do your senior loved ones have some cherished memories you can help them recall?

Some Traditions That Never Change

This year, since my parents live close by for the first time in over thirty years, I am seeing some of the things that my grandparents did when my mother repeats them. Most importantly is the food that my grandparents loved making and sharing with the many people who called their house home and visited frequently.

The memories have come flooding back to me when I see things like mincemeat cookies being made by my mom, since they were a favorite of her mom. There are candy dishes with things I remember at my grandparents’ house, like gumdrops and ribbon candy. Peppermint sticks and candy canes were not that prominent but ribbon candy abounded!

Baking cookies and pies for days and days to get enough different kinds ready for whoever might drop by and plates of cookies for the neighbors, friends, church family and others, like the newspaper carrier, have taken over my mother’s days this holiday season. The smells emanating from her kitchen evoke such sweet memories of years past – – it is hard to describe.

Having ham and applesauce for Christmas dinner is another long held food tradition of my parents that has come back to my table this year. Don’t forget the brussel sprouts!

Holiday Family Activities

Every year during the Christmas holidays we do certain things with the family. Now we have to plan them to occur when we are all gathered.

We love to go see Christmas lights around town on Christmas Eve. We load up everyone in the biggest car and drive around eating Christmas cookies and hot chocolate we bring along. We play holiday tunes on the radio or bring our favorite CDs so that we can sing along as we look for the most cheerful neighborhood decorations.

We have planned for years to spend the day after Thanksgiving putting up the Christmas tree, setting up the Christmas village and putting up our holiday yard display. Everyone pitches in and makes the job fun and memorable. We have had to struggle for a few years when the family began dispersing and we didn’t have the holiday spirit to do the decorations without them. Another flexibility challenge we are learning to overcome.

We also have a special ornament that we add to the tree each year. It could be a homemade ornament, a special one purchased during a family vacation or a recent picture of family members. My tree is packed with ornaments collected for almost thirty five years! Putting the ornaments on the tree is a special walk down memory lane for me as I remember my kids when they were little and the trips we shared. It makes decorating the tree a pleasure!

We always make Christmas cutout cookies and decorate the cookies with the kids. As they have grown, I have become the primary baker and when I cut back on the number of cookies baked, I heard loudly about it. Where are all the cookies mom? Oh yeah, you weren’t here to help decorate so I made less…

Aging Seniors Benefit From Traditions

With our senior loved ones, fulfilling as many memories they have of years past will be a wonderful gift that we can give them this year and every holiday.

  1. Do they have favorite foods that evoke their childhood, when their own mom or grandma made special cookies, cakes or pies? Have you made them their favorite cookies or seasonal drink, like eggnog or wassail? Will they eat dinner with you on the big night and if so, can they help plan the menu?
  2. Do they still have ornaments from their life that have been passed down through the family that they would love to put on the tree? Does their own home or apartment, whether they live alone or in a senior living facility, have a small tree where they can hang their memories? Can you give them a small tree for their table or dresser with some ornaments or popcorn strings?
  3. Are they able to listen to some of their favorite holiday tunes or sing along with some of the most fun jingles of the season? Can you give them an MP3 player or tablet with a playlist designed with their favorites?
  4. Are there movies that they enjoy and have been able to watch during the holidays? Do they love original classics like White Christmas, Miracle on 34th Street or Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer? Can you give them movies on DVD and show them how to operate it if they are unfamiliar? Can they stream videos on their computer or smart TV? Do they watch them on TV when they are played during the seasonal schedule? We used to mark the TV Guide for our grandfather to remind him when his favorite shows and movies would come on and which channel/time to tune into so he could enjoy them.
  5. Will they be able to go to church and celebrate the season? Can they accompany you when you go to school plays, choral concerts, holiday musicals, or church programs? When you are going to a holiday event, don’t forget to bring them along so they don’t miss out on the joy of the season.

These are some simple things that we can all do for our special senior loved ones. They just take a little remembering. You may be doing all these things and more already.

Tell us what traditions you continue to maintain for your senior loved one this holiday, we would love to hear yours!

We'd love to hear your thoughts!





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