Creating Homelike Holiday Celebrations Together For Assisted Living Facilities and Retirement Communities

The holiday season can be a time of joy, family and food. Remember that the holidays can also be a challenging time for some residents, especially those who may not have family visiting them in long-term care facilities.

christmas balls

Why not prepare for the holiday season at your community by encouraging your residents to share stories about some of their special traditions, favorite decorations, drinks and recipes? Becoming personally involved helps to increase the residents’ sense of community and is an antidote for the loneliness that can often accompany holidays away from family.

1. Decorating

Residents can be asked about their favorite types of holiday decorations and your activities staff can involve them in creating personal adornments for their individual rooms and in sharing ideas, even helping to decorate the communal areas.

2. Music

Hearing the holiday songs of their childhood can help your residents get into the spirit of the holidays. Add some of the holiday classics to your mealtime musical selections or ask your holiday entertainers to incorporate them into their repertoire.

3. Beverages

Memories of childhood holidays will include favorite beverages. You may learn about some wonderful refreshments from the different cultures of your residents’ heritages. Serve these festive and seasonal beverages in your snack areas or while residents are waiting to be served a meal to ensure hydration for seniors during the busy holiday season.

4. Menu


Residents should be encouraged to participate in monthly menu planning meetings for ALF menus, with preferences honored. If this is not already done at your community, consider starting with the holiday season. Residents will provide a number of great ideas, and may even provide recipes for special seasonal favorites that can complement your customized menus. When posting the menu with a resident’s favorite recipe, consider naming the recipe after the resident; for example, Helen’s Pumpkin Pie.

5. Memories

It is important to allow residents the opportunity to reminisce about their family holiday celebrations. Sharing memories enriches their experience, and allows us to get to know our residents. Consider setting up a time for residents to share their holiday stories while enjoying traditional seasonal drinks and food.

As you incorporate residents’ family holiday traditions into the daily life of assisted living facilities, let everyone in the community know who contributed them. Use tent cards or signs to tell people that the delicious Cuban pork, yucca, black beans and rice served on Christmas Eve in celebration of Noche Buena came from Cecilia, or that the terrific Jewish-inspired egg cream milkshake came from Norm.
Try to include all residents in planning and activities, and be watchful for signs of depression.

Different foods and snacking between meals may also affect some residents’ appetites. Continue to keep a close eye on any residents at risk for poor appetite during the holidays, and offer alternatives and encouragement if needed. Special holiday foods are a healthy and fun way to supplement the existing therapeutic diets of your residents.

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Need holiday recipe ideas for your community? Here are three recipes that are certain to bring back fond holiday memories.

Abigail’s Hanukkah Latkes

Potato Pancake

2 tablespoons canola oil
2 pounds (5 medium) peeled medium-starch potatoes, such as Yukon gold
1 medium red onion, finely chopped (3/4 cup)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 eggs, lightly beaten
applesauce and sour cream, for serving

Heat oven to 450° F. Brush 2 baking sheets with 1 tablespoon of the oil and set aside.
1. Using a box grater or a food processor fitted with a shredding blade, coarsely grate the potatoes. Place the grated potatoes in a large bowl with the onion, flour, salt, pepper, eggs, and the remaining tablespoon of oil. Toss to mix well.
2. Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls onto baking sheets and press lightly to make patties. Bake 10 minutes or until golden brown on the bottom. Turn the latkes with a metal spatula and rotate the baking sheets. Bake another 5 minutes or until golden.
3. Transfer to a platter and serve with the applesauce and sour cream.

This recipe makes 2 dozen latkes.

Maria’s Famous Polvorones (Spanish Almond Cookie)

almond cookies

1 1/2 cups unbleached white flour
3/4 cup almonds (raw)
5 oz. butter or margarine
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 50 minutes


1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Measure and pour flour out onto a cookie sheet. Place in oven and “toast” the flour. Occasionally move the flour around on the sheet, so that it toasts evenly. Leave in oven for about 8 minutes. Remove and set aside.
Place raw almonds on another cookie sheet. Toast the almonds until they change color just slightly. Remove and place almonds into a food processor. Process almonds until they are finely ground.
2. Reduce oven temperature to 250 degrees.
3. Cream butter, sugar and cinnamon together in a large mixing bowl. Add the flour and finely ground almonds and continue mixing. The dough will be very crumbly!
4. Place a sheet of waxed paper on a cutting board or other flat work surface. Press the dough together to form a ball. Then press the dough onto the waxed paper. Carefully flatten it down to about 1/2 inch. Use a cookie cutter to cut out the cookies.
5. Use a small spatula to carefully move the cookies from the waxed paper to a cookie sheet for baking because the dough is very dry and flakey.
6. Bake cookies on ungreased cookie sheet for 25-30 minutes at 250 degrees. Remove cookie sheet from oven and allow cookies to cool completely before removing them. Take special care not to break them.

Make approx. 16 cookies

Anthony’s Spiced Hot Chocolate

Hot cocoa red cup

4 cups prepared hot cocoa with whole milk
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
4 cinnamon sticks


1.Combine cocoa, nutmeg and chili powder.
2.Pour into mugs and serve with a cinnamon stick.
3. Add marshmallows for additional delicious taste!

Makes 4 servings

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