This is a framework I call Creating Joy now applied to Christmas.
First and this may surprise you, don’t plan! Yes, even though you get paid to plan, don’t do it. Looking back this is something I would have done differently and encourage you to do/not do. Why? Because I/you don’t live there. This is a beautiful way to give life back to institutionalized people. Give them back the planning. Hold regular, every single month, planning meetings. Get them ingrained into your typical monthly calendar but don’t call them calendar planning, consider maybe something more drawn out taking it slower… perhaps Christmas planning or Planning December. Then in December consider Planning January and/or Planning New Year’s. Have two planning meetings. This is so important. Here’s why…
Psychologists refer to something called our future self. Older, institutionalized people typically do not have a future self. Isn’t that sad? And partly perhaps it is our fault as we do all the planning. The institutional activity calendar is not an individual’s calendar. They don’t have a day timer anymore. What future self do they have? This is a way to give people their life back. Giving dear people a future self again, something most older adults no longer really have but could with your help.
Talk about Normal Life
Talk with the people who live where you (only) work. Talk about the Christmas season now and what they did to prepare. Take it slow. Break it down. Listen to what their life was like/what they prefer. Get ideas. Give time to talk and remember. What one says reminds another.
Give Homework/Ask for a Wish List
You could give the homework to come to planning meetings with ideas. It’s so good for people to have a reason to think and remember and maybe do some research on a topic. Have fun asking residents to bring a Wish List for December/Christmas.
If you haven’t done this yet, you could. There’s no rush. Build into your calendar some Photo Shoot times. Maybe coordinate with families for a Family Photo Shoot. This is what many people do at this time of year, family photos for the Christmas card… maybe you can too. If you already did a fall family photo shoot or you’re just considering this now, maybe just do an individual resident photo as a surprise and/or as a gift for the family from the resident. Assist residents to do things they used to do or maybe for the first time.
Involve everyone in your community. Ask for ideas, artifacts, props, etc. People tend to love a theme to work with. Just let it be known what you are looking for and watch what happens.
Now you could focus on helping residents to send Christmas or Hannukah cards. Don’t add it on top of all the other activities but instead build it into your budgeted activity time. Card Making or Card Sending on the calendar in place of something else on the calendar. Maybe one time it is in a group. Maybe another time your team moves room to room to help people with this very common tradition.
Offer a variety of Card Making/Card Choices
Consider a progression of card making choices. Some residents may want to make their own cards. Maybe an artistically skilled resident would consider making extra cards for others to use. Ask for boxed Christmas cards as a donation or just buy some. Giving the opportunity for institutionalized people to make choice is healthy emotionally and physically.
Cards for Staff and other Residents
Given the hard times we live in with country-wide staffing challenges, living through a pandemic and so much more, perhaps consider being a leader reminding everyone of the power of thanking and acknowledging each other. Intentionally work to create a warm climate with card making and card giving to those who have chosen to work there or to stay there all this time. I encourage you to consider a card from each individual resident so that one team member gets LOTS of cards instead of one card signed by many. Residents may also be interested in giving cards to fellow residents – a way to support friendships.
Christmas Crafts – but ONLY elegant crafts you would use for décor in your home
I recommend this approach I learned from a wise activity director. Sharing it with another director I consult with ended up with residents taking the elegant table centerpieces because they found them to be so gorgeous! That’s the point. I would do this differently looking back. Don’t let your crafts or décor around their home be “chincy” or cheap. Is it decor you would proudly put up in your home? Take it to that level.
I would want seasonal décor, even in my half a room, how about you? This time of year offers many simple ones too…
Advent calendar for each who wants one.
Nativity scenes, particularly one-piece style.
Amaryllis plant, Christmas cactus plant, Poinsettia depending upon the person.
Lights in each window, lights around the community’s property.
Christmas tree for each person – there are many sizes.
Seasonal Foods and Treats
Candies, baked goods, warm beverages, egg nogg, hot chocolate, flavored coffees. Peppermint flavored everything. So much fun. Let the one item be the thing, remember go slow, give yourselves time, enjoy. Put on the calendar: Egg Nogg for Everyone.
Don’t most of us love music at this time of year? Consider being intentional about finding each individual’s preferred Christmas season music. Then be proactive to make sure they have an easy way to listen to it and all team members know what it is and how to help.
Certainly involve families in all of this.
Remember, if a person has money, they can buy things they want. Sometimes a person needs to spend some of their money. Then you can reach out to families for sure. At this time, they may be wondering what to get as gifts anyway. You could also ask for donations. Post it here and there what you need: Christmas trees for all. 2023 calendars for all. Then go to your budget. Last. You don’t have to purchase everything.
Go collect ideas and traditions from those who live there.
A Giving Tree
In one home, residents decided to do this for staff member’s kids rather than themselves.
Help others to give gifts via online shopping and/or Christmas shopping outings.
Create your own “ChrisKindleMarkt” or Christmas Market. What fun. Create a special store, take it room to room. Invite some to make those elegant craft items that could be sold. Make candies or chocolates that could be sold. Ask for donations. What fun you could have with this.
Yes host this also as it is normal for this time of year. So many opportunities to give normal life back to people.
Giving back the normal act of planning
I encourage all of us to give it back. Give back the excitement of planning to those who live there. Give it time. Plan with. Ask more questions. Ask more than tell. Dedicate time for planning. Consider giving planning its own time and space not only now but in celebrating each month and each season. This could be your Christmas gift to them.
I would also love to hear your ideas. Merry Christmas to each of you. May God bless you for your dedication.
Carmen Bowman, MHS, Regulator turned Educator of Edu-Catering: Catering Education for Compliance and Culture Change, seeks to inspire everyone to chip away at institutional culture by laying a strong foundation of knowing regulatory requirements – blending innovation with regulation. Activity consulting, personalized continuing education and live instruction also available. “Cutting edge-ucation” nominal pay-per-view training and free sample videos at www.patreon.com/educatering, email@example.com 303-981-7228 www.edu-catering.com The Culture Change Minute for free www.facebook.com/Edu-catering