Holiday Survival Guide
Fall brings changing leaves, shorter days, cooler temperatures, and the upcoming holiday season. For many people, this is their favorite time of year. Halloween brings small ghouls, goblins, witches, and an occasional Batman. The great candy rush of October turns into the turkey fest of November and then Christmas is knocking at your door. Tis the season, right? Flights are booked, road trips are planned, and the cars are loaded with food and gifts. Holidays bring great joy and comfort to many, but for those seniors who have recently moved into an assisted living center, it may also be a time of uncertainty. For those of you who are gearing up for the holidays in a new place, know that you aren’t alone and that this truly can be an exciting time for you. Let’s look at some new traditions and new habits that can make this Halloween/Thanksgiving/Christmas season the best one yet.
Mapping Out Traditions
He’s making a list. He’s checking it twice. You know the rest of the song. You may even be singing it in your head right now. Sorry! But seriously though. You need to identify the top traditions, rituals, songs, foods, habits, and so on that make the holidays special for you. Pull out your pen and paper or iPad or laptop and make a list of the necessary things you need to be happy during the holidays. It can be as long or as short as your heart desires. That’s the beauty of this. No two people will describe a perfect Halloween or Thanksgiving or Christmas in the exact same way, and you should take time to carefully consider what defines your perfect holiday. This may bring back a rush of memories, so take your time doing this task and enjoy the experiences that come to your mind to say Hello again. This may even take a couple of days to complete as memories come to the surface that may have been long forgotten, and that’s okay. This list is for YOU, and you can change it as many times as you like. Have fun with it!
Adopting New Traditions
Now that you have your tried and true traditions mapped out, it’s time to consider any new ideas or habits that you’ve considered adopted during the years. Have you made a fruit salad you secretly can’t stand because that’s what your coworkers wanted and expected from you for 20 years? If so, doesn’t it feel great to not have to fix that this year? Maybe you’ve always wanted to go sing Christmas karaoke with friends, or maybe you’ve wanted to host the biggest ugly sweater party that Christmas has ever seen. Now is your chance to meld the old with the new, and start making some new memories in your new place. Here are some fun ideas to make the rest of 2018 as amazing as it can be.
Halloween. It isn’t just for the little ones if you don’t want it to be. Do you have any younger family members around who will be trick or treating? How much fun would it be to tag along with them? Besides, I’m sure their parents or guardians would welcome all help, especially after a night of too much candy. Did you enjoy dressing up to go trick or treating when you were a kid, and do you miss doing so now? What grandkid wouldn’t get a kick out of seeing their grandparents dressed up? I’m not saying you must get decked out in head to toe pirate gear, but something as simple as wearing a witch hat or painting your face like a cat can be fun for both you and the little ones.
If you don’t have any little relatives around, go find somewhere to volunteer. Daycares, schools, hospitals, churches, and other community sites normally have all types of activities planned for trick or treating. They are also usually short-staffed during this time of year and could use an extra set of hands and eyes to assist with the festivities. Many websites such as www.seniorlivinglink.org or your local town’s website will also list ideas and events. Don’t be afraid to try out as many as you want to. And if you don’t find some Halloween party that appeals to you, why not host one at your new place? This could be as simple as decorating your individual space and having a few people over or as elaborate as having a costume contest and prizes for your senior living community. Check in with the activities director and see what’s planned. He or she is normally stretched thin during this time of the year and will probably welcome the help or can suggest some local place that can use your assistance. Scary movie marathons, pumpkin patches, hayrides, and haunted home tours are just a few more ways you can make October devilishly delightful. Nothing is too big or too small, and everything seems possible on All Hallows’ Eve. Bahahaha. So, enjoy, and then get ready to move on to November.
Thanksgiving. Turkey. Ham. Dressing. Stuffing. No matter which dishes are staples at your dinner, Thanksgiving just means eating everything that you can. Ha. Okay, maybe not, but it seems that there’s always someone who falls victim to that tryptophan trance and enters slumber after their third plate of food. It’s a holiday set aside to give thanks, to be grateful, and to enjoy those that you love. What does your perfect Thanksgiving look like? Maybe you have been the main cook for your family events for thirty years. Maybe you’ve traveled to the same home for thirty years. If you want to host your Thanksgiving but you don’t have the room in your new residence, consider renting the community room at your senior living center. You’ll need to check the availability and reserve it in advance, but this still allows everyone to come together at your home. The location may have changed but the laughter and love are still the same. If your community room is booked, you can check out your town website to see what available spaces are available. Many churches and civic groups will rent out space for a surprisingly small amount. You may be happy to NOT host people for this Thanksgiving. It can be overwhelming to have to prepare for 20 or 30 people. Maybe you are going to travel this holiday. If so, you should investigate any flight sales or travel deals as quickly as you can. Prices on holiday flights can triple in mere days, and you don’t want to experience that sticker shock of paying $1200 or $1500 for a flight that only cost $450 last Tuesday. Make your arrangements, make copies of your travel documents, and enjoy your trip. What if travel isn’t possible? There are many other ways to spend Thanksgiving. Volunteer to feed the homeless. Shelters need assistance throughout the year, but their attendance swells during this time of year, and you truly will be making a difference. Plan a shopping marathon for Black Friday if that’s your thing. Start a football pool and enjoy all the games that will be on all weekend. This is another chance to blend the old in with the new and make Thanksgiving perfect for you for this year. Traditions are comforting, but change is necessary, and change is exciting. Enjoy the day, and then turn your attention to December.
Can you believe that December is almost here? You may celebrate Christmas. Or Hanukkah. Or Kwanza. You may not celebrate this month. No matter what your December has looked like in the past, now is the perfect time to shake things up a bit. Are there a lot of new residents in your community? Is this going to their first Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanza/New Year at your community? If so, plan a big event to celebrate 2018, new friends, and a new location. Maybe your kids and grandkids are not going to close to you this year. If not, consider adopting a child to sponsor for the holidays. Or even a pet. Community pet shelters have events where you can sponsor an animal (or animals) for the holidays. A friend of mine buys lots of shelter approved toys, dons a Santa hat, and takes her gifts to furry friends who will be spending their holidays waiting to be adopted. Angel Trees are another option for the holidays. They may go by another name in your area, but almost all towns will have a way for you to buy gifts for a needy little one. In this season of giving, what could be better than helping some child or pet who otherwise may not have had a good holiday?
If you miss cooking, have a bake-off competition or Iron Chef event at your center. Award prizes, take pictures and share all those delicious temptations at a party for both community members and staff. Pick a charity close to your heart and reach out to them to see if they need any help during this busy season. Start a gratitude and goal journal for 2019. Write out your favorite memories from 2018 and write down a goal for each month of 2019. Invite your friends to do the same and set up a monthly meeting in the new year to have fun and hold each other accountable.
Host a gift exchange but please don’t go overboard. Cost is insignificant. Think outside the box. Maybe five baking lessons to a friend or a grandkid who can’t make toast. Buy a family a movie package or take them out bowling. What about a gift card to their favorite restaurant? The point is to make a fun memory. Is there a dollar store close by? If so, host a party where everyone brings a gift from the local $0.99 store. Can you imagine the presents that will be exchanged? Share your talents with a new group. If you play a musical instrument, host a concert at your center. Do you like to act? Put on a play and recruit other center members. It can be something holiday related or not. That’s the beauty of this new life that you have. The old gets blended with the new, and traditions can be changed at any time.
Dealing with Holiday Feelings
I hope you are excited about the upcoming months, and I truly hope you enjoy them to the fullest. Please know that it is also okay to be a little nervous at this stage in your life. Holidays can be tough on anyone for so many different reasons. We come into the season with high expectations that sometimes are just not realistic. We expect perfection from imperfect people and situations. We may miss what we had and not feel ready for the new. If this is how you feel, know that you are not alone. Find someone to talk to, whether it be a friend or family member or even a staff member.
If you still experience anxiety or depression after talking to someone, there are other resources available to help you. Senior hotlines can be found on www.seniorlivinglink.org or aarp.com. Use them! They are there to help you, and they know that the holidays can be a rough time. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to a counselor on a hotline, try reaching out to a local counselor. You can get a recommendation online or you can ask the staff at your community center for a recommendation. Do not try to deal with any holiday sadness or anxiety on your own. You deserve to have the best time of your life, and you owe it to yourself to take care of your needs during the hustle and bustle of the season.
Many people feel ashamed if they struggle during the holidays, but you should never apologize for being honest about your feelings. You should know that you are alone. A lot of people experience some holiday sadness. Talk to your community advisor if you have a hard day. See what they recommend, or if they have a suggestion for a counselor to visit. If you are happy during the holidays but you have a friend or loved one who needs help, does what you can to help them. A lot of people in your senior living community are going to be experiencing the same feelings that you are. Gather all the newbies together and make sure you check in on each other. Nothing heals the heart like true friendship and the comfort we feel when we are in the presence of someone we care for. You may be surrounded by a different group of people, but that just gives you an even bigger opportunity to recreate the holidays as you all see fit to.
2019 will be here before you know it, so take the time to enjoy these last few months of 2018. Memories are the most priceless things we have, and this is the season to make them. Enjoy those trick-or-treaters, celebrate those fall colors, enjoy cooler weather, and eat the foods that define the holidays for you. Be sure to take lots of pictures. Send out a ton of cards. Most of all? Be still for a moment and enjoy your life. Take comfort in friendship and family. Have fun. Know that you are loved. Know that you are needed.
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