How Senior Care Communities Make Holidays Special

Esther Cromwell

Esther Cromwell, founder and CEO of Avendelle Assisted Living Franchise

Holidays give us a chance to celebrate with family and friends, and holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas can be bright spots in a long winter. Celebrating holidays is particularly important in senior care settings. “Celebrating holidays allows our residents to keep their cherished traditions alive, socialize, and have fun together,” explains Esther Cromwell, founder and CEO of Avendelle Assisted Living Franchise. “It’s also a chance for family visits and togetherness, making the residents feel more regular and connected.”

We sat down with leaders from four senior care communities to talk about how they make the holidays special for residents and staff.

Thanksgiving Meal Celebrations

Robert Daniel Lowry, vice president and administrator at Sunny Hills Assisted Living Facility, explains that his community often holds celebrations before the actual holiday to accommodate families who may be traveling or spending time in other places on the actual holiday. “We are hosting a Thanksgiving luncheon the Tuesday before Thanksgiving for families and residents,” he says. “We will have a savory traditional turkey meal with all the fixings, pumpkin pie, and pecan pie. We will also have live entertainment during the luncheon.”


Robert Daniel Lowry

Robert Daniel Lowry, vice president and administrator at Sunny Hills Assisted Living Facility

Gift-giving is a central element of many senior care community celebrations. Senior Home Companions, which provides in-home care, delivers poinsettias to clients’ doorsteps each December. Each poinsettia has a client story attached with a holiday connection, as well as a year in review piece. “We have over 200 clients, so we split up as a team and fill our cars to hand deliver the poinsettias,” says Kirstin Comment, marketing coordinator with Senior Home Companions and Story Cottage.

“A handful of clients answer their doors and we go in and visit. It is so heartwarming to go into the house and see what they’re up to. When I hand-delivered poinsettias, it was two clients’ birthdays, and they were so happy.” She says many clients are delighted with the deliveries, particularly because they don’t often get many visitors.

Christmas Gatherings

Story Cottage, a residential memory care community, hosts an annual Cookies and Coco event. During the event, residents’ family members visit, carolers come to the homes and sing, and residents and their families enjoy a cocoa bar, cookies, and Christmas snacks. “Residents eventually start singing along with the carolers,” says Comment.

Additionally, Story Cottage hosts different Christmas celebrations for staff each year. “Around the holidays we do ugly sweater Christmas parties,” Comment explains. “Story Cottage leadership does a big Christmas lunch, and we’ve also done a white elephant gift exchange.”

Holiday-Themed Contests

Kirstin Comment

Kirstin Comment, marketing coordinator at Senior Home Companions

Embracing a spirit of community engagement, Solterra communities hold several company-wide contests where residents and staff both vote for the winters. These include a pumpkin decorating cost, costume contest, and an ugly holiday sweater contest. “Employees have the opportunity to win prizes in their community, and if they are one of the top three winners they’re also entered into the company-wide voting for a $500 gift card from corporate,” says Kayla Van Rossum, regional live well director at Solterra Companies.

During Christmas, Avendelle hosts a door decorating contest. “All the staff members get to unleash their creativity and transform the homes’ doors into magical wonders,” says Cromwell. “We even post pictures of these magnificent creations on social media so that everyone can vote for their favorite one. The door that receives the most votes will be crowned the champion and win an absolutely fabulous prize.”

Encouraging Friend and Family Involvement

Van Rossum notes that family and friends are encouraged to join holiday-specific family nights, meals, and happy hours. “We send out flyers and place reminders at our entrances, as well as include messaging on our common area TVs,” she says.

Kayla Van Rossum

Kayla Van Rossum, regional live well director at Solterra Companies

Residents’ families also play a key role in helping Avendelle plan holiday celebrations. “We utilize various means of communication, such as emails, phone calls, and text messages, to effectively relay important information and involve them in the planning process for our upcoming festivities,” explains Cromwell.

Going Beyond the Major Holidays

Cromwell notes that not only does Avendelle celebrate major holidays, like Christmas and Thanksgiving, but the community also commemorates resident birthdays, Valentine’s Day, Easter, Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, and Veterans Day. “It is worth noting that our celebrations extend beyond the expected holidays, as we believe in recognizing the smaller achievements of our esteemed residents,” she says. “This approach ensures their continued engagement and satisfaction.”

Cromwell states that staff collaborate with residents’ families to plan birthday celebrations that will be most fitting and meaningful to residents.

Advice for Senior Care Communities Looking for New Holiday Celebration Ideas

At their root, holiday celebrations are about emotions. “Stimulating all five senses is key in senior living, especially during the holidays,” says Van Rossum. “Focus on creating an experience with decorations, music, food, etc. It’s the way you make community members feel that is most important.”

Cromwell encourages senior care communities to collaborate with families and involve them through the entire process of planning and executing holiday celebrations. “It would also be wise to leverage social media platforms for ideas and valuable information,” she says. “Tap into the knowledge and skills of your team members when designing and organizing events. Lastly, bear in mind that not everything may go according to plan, so it is crucial to remain adaptable and open to making adjustments to ensure everyone’s satisfaction.”

It’s also essential for holiday celebrations to be inclusive, says Lowry. “The community is one big family,” he says. “They should all feel welcome and enjoy the event. Try to honor and include what is important to them. Include their favorite songs, games, and foods. Little personal touches really make things special.”

When it comes to planning holiday celebrations, Comment encourages senior care communities to look past the cost of an event or a gift. “Focus on starting a tradition or just implementing something special for clients or staff,” she says. “It doesn’t necessarily have to have a price tag – just getting together and visiting does a lot more than you might think. Companies struggle with budgeting, but I don’t think it’s all about the price tag. I think a handwritten Christmas card says a lot more than doing nothing.”

Incorporating holiday celebrations can contribute to staff and resident morale, and it gives everyone something to look forward to. “No matter where our residents are in life’s journey, there is always a reason to rejoice,” says Cromwell. “There are countless moments waiting to be cherished, and it is our duty to create a space that nurtures our residents with love and appreciation.”

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