Just because an aging parent or loved one is in a nursing home this Christmas doesn’t mean you and your family can’t still share with them a special experience. There are many enjoyable and memorable things to be done, even in what may seem a cold, uninviting environment.
Below are ten ways to have a great Christmas with your family in a nursing home.
• Check the Nursing Home rules before you commit to any large gatherings.
It’s wise to plan ahead, and this includes asking the nursing home’s staff about any rules that may restrict your celebration, and to let them know you plan on spending Christmas Eve or Christmas Day with your loved one. Make sure you’re clear on such rules pertaining to visiting hours, number of visitors, gifts, and noise. If there are rules, you don’t want to look foolish and ruin what could have been a great Christmas by over-celebrating. Christmas is often light-hearted, especially with children, so make sure you understand what you’re getting into first.
• Include your loved one in your plans.
It’s never too early to plan for Christmas, or any holiday get-together. Give your loved one something to look forward to by including them in the planning. After all, it’s a Christmas with and for them, and leaving them out until the last minute can cause confusion. Take the time to involve your loved one so that everyone is on the same page and there are no negative feelings. The last thing you want is to bring a large family together to celebrate with a loved one who, not only didn’t expect a party, but didn’t want one in the first place.
• Share the Christmas Spirit by involving staff and other residents.
It wouldn’t be Christmas if you couldn’t share the Christmas Spirit with everyone you meet. And in a nursing home, many of the elderly residents and even some of the staff may be very lonely. Invite them into your celebration. You may leave a great impression, not only on the lonely members of the nursing home, but on your children who may see this token of gratitude as something more, an example to live by. Share your food, your memories, laughs, and time with strangers on Christmas, and know you’re fulfilling the true meaning of the holiday.
• Be mindful of others. Don’t get too loud or disruptive.
Not everyone will want to be a part of your celebration, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have to still try to appease them. Remember where you’re at and that staff may be stressed out, short-handed, or dealing with personal issues. Residents are old, frail, and sometimes dying. Loud noises from celebration or children disrupts the natural flow of any nursing home. It’s Christmas, not the Fourth of July, and by celebrating quietly you can still share the joy with your family, and give the residents and staff a break.
• Be careful of food allergies when giving gifts.
Taking care of others extends to the presents you bring. Find out beforehand if any residents or staff have specific food allergies. You wouldn’t want to bring peanuts into a nursing home when several residents are allergic. It would make for a Christmas tragedy, and possible legal issues in the aftermath. Take special care to pick foods that will be accepted and appreciated. If in doubt, leave out the nuts, milk, or sugary items.
• Make Christmas as normal as possible.
Make everyone feel at home. Put presents under the tree, sing Christmas carols, tell old family stories, and share the joy of Christmas. Bring snacks your family enjoys, and decide whether you’d like to bring your own dinner or eat at the nursing home cafeteria. Bring your camera and take as many pictures as you can, then make copies for everyone.
• Warm up a dull room.
Christmas is a time of happiness and interaction. Decorations like ribbons, small trees, or cards can go a long way to livening up any atmosphere. Even nursing home or hospital rooms can be transformed with just a little planning beforehand. Keep in mind that any mess you make decorating shouldn’t be left to someone else to clean up, so don’t get carried away. Involve your loved one, children, and any staff willing to participate in decorating.
• Bring the children.
Children can spice up any Christmas party, but make sure you bring a backup plan in case the main festivities bore them. When children grow restless they often act up, ruining your well-laid plans. Avoid this by bringing movies, quiet toys, or puzzles and coloring books. Include activities even adults can enjoy, to involve everyone and share the Christmas experience. Crafts are also a great boost to a party’s energy. Build a gingerbread house or decorate stockings.
• Get out for a while.
If your loved one is active enough to leave the nursing home, take the family to church; or depending on the climate, to a picnic at a park or at the beach. If your loved one lives in a nursing home, going out for any period of time may be very rare, and driving around to see Christmas decorations can be an exciting adventure.
• Dress up.
It may be a simple get-together, but dressing up can transform your Christmas from a ho-hum gathering into an unforgettable reunion. You can be silly and dress up as Santa, dressing your children and cousins as elves, an uncle as Frosty, and an aunt as Rudolph. Or you can simply dress in your Sunday’s best, giving Christmas dinner an edge of professionalism that can focus everyone on why they’re there. But don’t let your dress become an interference. Dressing up can help keep people interested in the festivities, or remind them of the importance of the event, but don’t let the dress code, or any other thing, hinder the celebration. The bottom line is to be free and happy and enjoy Christmas, even in shorts and t-shirts.
Always remember that whatever you put into your party, whether it be at home or at a nursing home, the overall goal is to celebrate happiness, and the joy Jesus Christ has brought to us through his birth. Don’t forget, even after the commercialization and secularization of Christmas, that it’s a religious holiday meant to instill hope and goodwill among humanity. Share this with your family this Christmas, and let your loved one know that they’re still needed and loved.