Making Holidays Special for Your Elders

By Carol Bradley Bursack,

Even though holidays can be fraught with stress because of societal expectations that they be happy no matter what our circumstances, most of us have happy memories of celebrations when we were young. Our parents were in charge, and kids were the focus. As our parents age and can no longer be in charge of celebrations, the duties tend to fall to adult children.

Our heart’s desire is to provide a way for our aging parents to enjoy the holidays, but their circumstances can make that challenging. First and foremost, however, remember that it’s your presence that is the most important thing. That, and helping your parents to feel included in whatever way they can participate.

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For several years I had, along with my own home, two apartments and two nursing home rooms to decorate, plus the other duties, including holiday meals in several locations to consider. I did try to simplify life as much as possible, but I also wanted badly to do what I could for my elders. Was it enough? I did my best, is all I can say. And I did learn a few things.

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Making Holidays Special for Your Elders…No Matter Where They Live originally appeared on

Ways to celebrate the holidays no matter where your parent lives

If your parent lives independently, as my mother did for a few years after my dad went into the nursing home, try to keep the holiday decorating as much like your parent wants it to be as possible.

1. Play holiday music while you decorate to set a festive mood. Maybe make cider hot or hot chocolate.

2. Make children a part of the rituals if the elders enjoy that and the children can participate.

3. Use your parents’ treasured holiday decorations. Talk about each piece as you pull it out of storage. If the elders cannot be active in decorating their home, ask questions. Where would they like the ornaments placed? This is especially important if the person now primarily resides in his or her recliner. Put favorite items where they can easily be seen and enjoyed the most.

4. Ask if they need help with holiday cards or rituals. Your help in addressing envelopes can be a boost to their moral, making signing cards possible. You can put on stamps and mail the cards. This helps them keep in touch with old friends.

5. Be on the lookout for cards and other news they receive from old friends. Often, the news they receive is not good. Someone’s spouse has died or is very ill. Someone else is now in a nursing facility and not adjusting well. Cancer has returned to a special friend. You get the picture.

6. Also, ask about phone calls. Did they get a call from so and so? What is going on? Watch for signs of sadness and even depression over news from old friends. Perhaps your company is especially needed on a certain day.

7. If possible, have the festive meals at your home, or plan to cook at your elders. Take the load of being a host off of their plate. Make sure they have leftovers from the meals if they enjoy that.

8. Offer to shop for and wrap gifts they want to give to friends and family.

9. Help them scale down and simplify in ways that could make their holidays less stressful, but don’t emphasize their losses. Ask what they want, and try to make it happen to the best of your ability.

10. Encourage your elders to tell stories of the past.

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Making Holidays Special for Your Elders…No Matter Where They Live originally appeared on

If your parent lives in assisted living or a nursing home, the only differences from the suggestions above would be that you’d need to scale down the decorating, so it’s extra important for you to ask questions. If you helped your elder move to the facility, I hope you made it a point to save treasured holiday decorations. These familiar objects are vital to memories and creating a homelike atmosphere.

If the person enjoys holiday clothing, consider a new holiday sweatshirt or other garment. Mom had a number of Christmas appropriate sweatshirts she wore with basic slacks. I’d bring them to her in stages to keep her feeling as if she had something new.

If your parent lives with you, don’t treat him or her as a guest. Ask for help in any way the person can provide it, taking into consideration the obvious things that they can’t do. You don’t want to make your parent feel worse, but you want to offer them the chance to participate.

Your company is what matters

As in all of the other scenarios, expect some depression and negative emotions. Your parents are going through losses because of their own age, their new living arrangements, the death and illness of friends. Yes, you are busy and harried and have far too much to do. But please take time to remember the losses your parent may be suffering and have compassion for their crankiness or depressed attitudes. Make the atmosphere as positive as you can without being artificially cheery.

Holidays are a challenge. Caregivers are at risk for burnout at this time, but that’s another topic. As with all caregiving, do your best but don’t expect perfection. Not every moment will be a delight, but you will have made a positive difference for your elder. Giving your elders your time, and attention and love is their best holiday gift. The rest is gravy.

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Making Holidays Special for Your Elders…No Matter Where They Live originally appeared on


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Michele Wilkinson

Thank you

Joe R.
Joe R.3 years ago


Sue T.
Susan T.3 years ago

We are not adult children, we are ADULTS now and therefore need to GROW UP!

My parents were adults when my memories were made and now I am an adult responsible for NOW and this is representative of why our country is the way it is.

You are not a child!!!!! not if you are over the age of 18 .... get over your crap and grow up, stand up and be what you are an ADULT.

Yeah I don't like it either but it is reality.

Lin Moy
Lin M3 years ago

These are great but, what do you do when they don't remember what a holiday is anymore?

Alexandra Rodda
Alexandra Rodda3 years ago

I'm an elder and shall email this to my children. Thank you.

Lynn C.
Lynn C.3 years ago

I'm very fortunate that my elderly parents have never liked the commercial holiday called 'Christmas'. They played the game when we were kids, now feel like I do about it...which is that it's a time to lie low - send out a few cards and wait for the end of the year to recycle all the piles of ad papers.

Victoria Pitchford
Vicky P.3 years ago

thanks :)

Penny C.
Penny C.3 years ago

Good advice,thanks.

Magdalena K.
Past Member 3 years ago


Kathleen S.
Kathleen Swanson3 years ago

When my Dad had to move into an Assisted Living facility, I spoke to a few of the residents in the common rooms and they all insisted that the most important thing to help my Dad adjust was to visit often.

My sister and I decorate his room for every holiday. The door is always decorated so that he can easily find his room. We also put a photo along with a short introduction, it's a great icebreaker for new and old residents!

Many of the seniors have few visitors, I encourage everyone to just smile and say hello to each of the seniors you pass in the hallways.