You may not remember each present you unwrapped during the holidays as a child, but you probably can still smell the cookies (or maybe it was cinnamon rolls) baking in the oven, hear the music that was playing, visualize trimming the tree (and perhaps hear the wonderful stories behind the ornaments that have been in the family for generations), and feel the love of being surrounded by family. These traditions, unique to each family, are what makes the holidays so special.
The greatest holiday gifts of all are the traditions that are passed down through the generations and the memories that are made. While our elderly loved ones may not play as active of a role in the holidays as they once did, it’s important to keep them involved, as they can often feel left out at this time of year. Even if the traditions will not be exactly the same going forward, there’s always room for new ones.
Here are some ideas on how to keep the traditions going and show your elderly loved ones just how much they mean to you.
Put together a photo album of past holidays. Looking over happy memories will bring joy and may get them talking about the fun times and moments you shared. This is a great opportunity to ask them about their favorite traditions and what they loved most about the holidays growing up.
Prepare their favorite recipes. If they’re not up to being in the kitchen, dig out a cherished family recipe or two and include it in your holiday dinner. If they’re not able to attend, bring them a dish to enjoy.
Play their favorite holiday music. Once the tunes turn on, so will the smiles.
Decorate with them. Do they have specific holiday décor that they look forward to putting out each year? Even if they are now in an assisted living center, there is always room for a festive touch. Go for a tabletop tree, hang a wreath, and/or display holiday cards.
Watch a holiday movie. Let them pick and watch it together while savoring their favorite goodies.
Visit. This is the time of year when loneliness can hit hard. The best present is your presence. If you’re able to put aside some time to spend time with your loved ones. If an in-person visit isn’t an option, see if you can coordinate a Skype/FaceTime call.
We asked our staff at Elder Law of East Tennessee to share their special family traditions. Here are their sweet stories:
My mother and I started a holiday tradition about 12 years ago. Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, we get together for a day and make a Christmas wreath for each of us for our front door. Sometimes at her house, other years at mine. We’ve only missed one year in the 12 – I was traveling. Our wreaths have become more elaborate, larger, and we challenge ourselves to find something new and creative to do. We gather all of our own greenery – either from the cast offs from the local tree sales or from our yards (or neighbors yards with permission of course) and we help each other. It’s a great way to spend the day and something I think about with warm thoughts and good cheer every time I see a wreath no matter where it is. This picture is from this past weekend. Her front door. We used Arborvitae, Leland Cypress, Blue Spruce, Nandina with berries, Fire Bush, Magnolia, Boxwood, and Holly with berries. It’s what we had on hand and it came out so pretty.
My favorite holiday tradition is that every year during Hannukah my mother makes latkes (fried potato pancakes). I grew up making these with her and our kitchen would smell amazing all day! After the latke making was finished we would enjoy them the first night for dinner after lighting our menorahs.
19 years ago, my parents began collecting toys for underprivileged children at “The Crazy Quilt Friendship Center” in Jellico, TN. Every year we begin collecting toys on black Friday and then deliver them to the center before their annual Christmas party. My children love being part of this tradition and playing Santa’s helpers.
When our son was two, we went to Hallmark, and he picked out a Christmas ornament to place on the Christmas tree. It was a small train car with a sliding door. He loved this little ornament and it inspired quite a few imaginative play times; I must say. Thus, began a tradition of taking our kids to select a special ornament each Christmas…a sweet tradition continued for many years. We collected boxes full of ornaments over the years, but the little train car was special. Each time we prepared to decorate our Christmas tree; our son would say “Christmas doesn’t start until the train is on the tree.”
Our son is now grown, finishing college, and headed to grad school. I see him frequently, but not consistently, and our holiday traditions have certainly evolved over time. This year, for the first time, I was left to decorate the tree all by myself. After unwrapping and hanging ornaments, fussing with lights, and tucking in ribbon, I unwrapped the train car. Since Christmas, for me, has always been centered around my family, especially our kids, it didn’t seem right to begin Christmas without them. I placed the train car on our dining room table thinking to myself that “Christmas doesn’t start until the train is on the tree.” The next morning, I came downstairs and smiled at our tree, now full of holiday memories. Then I saw it. Our son came home sometime after I had gone to bed and placed the little train car delicately on the tree. He left a note saying simply, “Now it’s Christmas.”
Every year my mom bakes several batches of these legendary fruitcakes. I’m convinced she will single-handedly restore the good name of this much-ridiculed dessert.
We wish you and your loved ones a wonderful holiday and very happy new year!