A Season to Celebrate

Holiday vignettes fom our readers
Throughout the year as we’ve endeavored to inform and assist our readers, we’ve published articles on regulations, staffing, resident care, legal pitfalls, information technology, and much more. As the year draws to a close, we wanted to give you a change of pace, a little break from talk of surveys and staffing shortages and reimbursement woes and MDS coding conundrums.

To bring you some holiday cheer, Managing Editor Sandra Hoban has assembled a series of holiday vignettes contributed by long-term care facilities from around the country.

In this assortment you’ll read about a variety of traditions and ethnic customs, along with some plain old holiday-inspired acts of kindness. You’ll probably notice a recurring theme-that the organizations sharing their holiday stories are committed to enriching their residents’ lives by being mindful of their holiday traditions.

Please sit back, relax, and enjoy the diversity and joy of the celebrations shared in these pages by your colleagues. Along with them, we at Nursing Homes/Long Term Care Management wish you a happy, prosperous, and healthy 2004!

Preparing Early

At Presbyterian Homes in Evanston, Illinois, some of our residents get in the holiday spirit during summer. They get together at workshops to create their own holiday cards using old and new photographs in creative and personally meaningful ways. A unique card was created by a resident who used a photograph, circa 1910, of her husband in a goat cart with his sisters. Copies were made of the photo and the cards were ready for holiday mailing.

Presbyterian Homes’ residents also make use of the technology available to them. For example, one resident, who loves to take pictures, selected a favorite snapshot from last winter. This photo was scanned, sized, and positioned on card stock.

Our residents’ talents are not limited to greeting card design. Another favorite project is creating recipe cards. Many family events involve favorite or traditional foods, so each recipe is annotated to describe its origin and how it became a tradition at family gatherings. Documentation such as this provides another way to record family history. When completed the cards will be printed, packaged, and given as gifts or favors.

Jane H. Grad
Presbyterian Homes
Evanston, Illinois
Living Nativity

At Buffalo Valley Lutheran Village in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, staff, residents, and families play roles in a Living Nativity scene that is staged in the courtyard of the Nursing Center. Live sheep, goats, and other animals wander around the stable as volunteers re-enact the miracle of Christmas night. On a starry night, residents can enjoy this spiritually uplifting tableau from their rooms.

Emily Kerstetter
Buffalo Valley Lutheran Village
Diakon Lutheran Ministries
Lewisburg, Pennsylvania

Warm Hands & Hearts

The Mitten Tree by Candace Christiansen and Elaine Greenstein is a story about an elderly woman whose children were grown. One very cold day she was looking out her window and noticed that one of the children waiting at the bus stop did not have any mittens. She decided to knit him a pair and left them on a tree near the stop. After seeing how excited the children were with the boy’s new mittens, she continued to leave mittens on the tree to keep all the children warm. Although this was done anonymously, her identity was discovered. One morning a basket of yarn was left on her doorstep so she could knit mittens for the next children who waited there.

Inspired by this story of giving, the residents of Willimansett Centers East and West in Chicopee, Massachusetts, adopted the children of a local elementary school. Each home set up trees in its living room and residents, staff, and families were invited to donate new hats and mittens to the “mitten tree.” Just before Christmas, the mittens were collected from the trees, paired up, and placed in handmade bags with snowmen that indicated the color of the mittens inside. The bags were delivered to the school for distribution. Last year, there were more than 80 pairs of mittens donated.

Willimansett Center East
Willimansett Center West
Chicopee, Massachusetts

Homeland Tradition

December 13, St. Lucia Day, is a traditional Swedish holiday. This 4th-century martyr is a symbol of light, and the holiday reminds the Swedish people that after December, the dark nights will become shorter. The Swedish women living in the Rainbow Lane neighborhood at Haven House in Wahoo, Nebraska, asked if they could celebrate St. Lucia Day the way they did at their church in town.

According to tradition, a young girl in the family is dressed in a white robe with a red ribbon around her waist and wears a crown of candles (battery-operated today) in her hair. On St. Lucia Day, she serves her family special sweet buns flavored with saffron. For our celebration, it was the “mayor” of Rainbow Lane who represented the young girl and read the legend of St. Lucia to residents from all three neighborhoods at Haven House. The other Swedish women involved and the primary care staff also dressed in traditional blue and red clothing and wore bright aprons and red hats.

The idea for this celebration may have originated at a neighborhood meeting, but the Wahoo community eagerly supported it. The local church provided costumes, and other volunteers provided traditional Swedish decorations. Sweet buns and other baked goods were supplied by volunteers and a local bakery.

Melanie Ludvik
Haven House Living Center
Wahoo, Nebraska

Festival Of Lights

The Golden Slipper Uptown Home in Northeast Philadelphia observes Chanukah (the Festival of Lights) with traditional candle lighting that commemorates the heroism of the Maccabees in liberating their country from foreign domination. During Chanukah we also celebrate the miraculous lighting of the temple for eight days with a one-day supply of oil. Along with the blessings and candle lightings conducted by its spiritual leader, Rabbi Sandra Katz, one resident is selected each night of Chanukah to read a special Jewish value statement created by the rabbi over the home’s public-address system.

Along with the serious side of the holiday, residents of each of our units are treated to a tradition-filled party where they sing songs, eat latkes, play dreidel, exchange gifts, and pass out gelt, foil-wrapped candy symbolic of gold coins.

Golden Slipper Uptown Home,
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

A Glowing Holiday Season

For the eighth year, Asbury Heights in Mt. Lebanon, Pennsylvania, presents Asbury Aglow, a holiday outdoor lighting celebration enjoyed by the entire Mt. Lebanon community. Visitors to Asbury Aglow walk the luminaria-bordered driveway to enjoy the activities at Asbury Heights (independent living), Asbury Villas (assisted living), and Asbury Place (Alzheimer’s care). Everyone gathers to enjoy entertainment by a number of local ensembles and displays by area artists. Refreshments are served, and everyone is welcome at Santa Land, where children of all ages can sit on Santa’s knee and whisper their secrets to him.

Seven decorated trees are displayed in the lobby of Asbury Place. As part of Asbury Aglow, people can make a donation to Asbury and receive a “caring” angel that bears a name in honor or memory of a loved one. The lobby trees are decorated with angel ornaments that serve as beautiful reminders of the lives of the honorees and the generosity of the donors.

Asbury Heights
Mt. Lebanon, Pennsylvania

Dia de los Reyes

Three Kings Day (Dia de los Reyes), is celebrated by Hispanic people 12 days after Christmas and commemorates the visit of the Three Kings (Melchior, Balthazar, and Caspar) to the stable in Bethlehem. At the Jewish Home and Hospital Lifecare System-Bronx, New York, Hispanic residents are treated to a wonderful dinner that includes traditional dishes such as pork, rice and beans, and a special rice pudding. The dining room is gaily decorated with balloons, replicas of the Magi, and colorful table linens. A singer and pianist entertain residents after dinner.

Prior to Three Kings Day, we sponsor a toy drive. Residents and staff are invited to donate gifts for the boys and girls in the pediatric unit of a local hospital. The presents are delivered the day after Three Kings Day.

Fred Greenblatt
Jewish Home and Hospital Lifecare Systems
Bronx Division, Bronx, New York
Multicultural Parties

The management team at PinnacleHealth’s Seidle Hospital is planning a month-long, fun-packed multicultural New Year’s 2004 celebration for staff and residents. Beginning on December 31st, residents will celebrate an American New Year’s Eve. Throughout January we will celebrate Japanese (Shogatsu), Persian (No Ruz, or NoRooz), Jewish (Rosh Hashanah), Vietnamese (Tet), Chinese (Ying Li Shing Nian), and Hindu (Baisakhi) New Year. As part of the festivities, we will touch on many other cultures. With the help of staff, residents’ families, and volunteers, there will be food, educational sessions, and a celebration that supports each particular country’s tradition.

By exposing residents to different cultures, we hope to increase cultural diversity awareness, while giving our residents fun adventures to enjoy.

Dixie D. Brown, PinnacleHealth Seidle Hospital
Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania

Bicultural Party

Sarah Neuman Center for Health Care and Rehabilitation is always looking for new ways to celebrate. In addition to our traditional New Year’s Eve party, we hold a Chinese New Year cele-bration that is educational, creative, and social. Our resident cooking groups prepare traditional Chinese foods, which they enjoy at an intimate lunch, while the food and nutrition department prepares similar fare for the rest of the residents to enjoy. Menus are written in both English and Chinese. Residents love their fortune cookies filled with fun fortunes and words of wisdom.

After a tasty lunch, a local Chinese painter provides a demonstration and hands-on workshop in pen and ink drawing. Everyone receives a sample of his or her name in Chinese. Later, a resident’s family dresses in traditional Chinese clothing and gives a talk on China and its culture. A group of local Chinese schoolchildren performs a dragon dance to the delight of the residents.

Merri Buckstone
Sarah Neuman Center for Health Care and Rehabilitation
Mamaroneck, New York


In ancient times, rice was a valuable commodity in Japan used for special occasions, especially at the year’s end. At Seattle Keiro, a skilled nursing facility, and Nikkei Manor, an assisted living residence, we serve our Japanese elderly by keeping their traditions alive. One such tradition is called mochi-tsuki. This tradition is a literally a “sweet rice pounding.” A glutinous rice that has been soaked overnight is pounded in a large mortar (called an usu) with a large wooden mallet (called kine). Because this job is so labor intensive, mochi-tsuki is a community event and, therefore, a celebration. The pounded rice becomes doughy and is formed into little balls and filled with sweet bean paste or served with soy sauce. Traditionally, two or three flattened mochi balls are offered at shrines for a prosperous new year.

At Seattle Keiro, volunteers come with their usu and kine and make the mochi for residents. At Nikkei Manor, electric mochi machines make the mochi, and residents form the mochi balls and decide how to serve it.

Another year-end Japanese tradition is soba. Soba noodles are long, representing a wish for long life. In Japanese, the word soba sounds like the word for “close to,” so it is eaten close to the new year.

Tiffany Buckner
Nikkei Concerns, Seattle, Washington

The holiday season is a joyous time of sharing with family and friends. But it can be especially stressful for people touched by memory loss. These ideas may help make the holiday season more enjoyable for them.

  • Focus on holiday rituals and traditions that encourage reminiscing.
  • Prepare the individual for upcoming events and festivities.
  • Schedule activities earlier in the day and shorten the length of the activity.
  • Have distractions ready (e.g., repetitive chores, old pictures to look at).
  • Encourage visitors by limiting the number and length of stays.


  • Large gatherings (even too many family members may be too much)
  • Loud noises
  • Unfamiliar changes and places
  • Change in routine and sleep

-Hallmarks newsletter, Jennings Care Center for Older Adults, Garfield Heights, Ohio

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